When does a tree in a pot become bonsai.

JRob

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Good Afternoon All,

Pablo Picasso was the most influential visual artist of the 20th C. The experts all agree whether they personally like his work or not that his masterpieces deserve to be hung in the most important museums in the world. All critics would agree that not every one of his creations was a masterpiece.

Few of us can afford an original Picasso let alone one of his masterpiece. The art we hang in our homes is there because it strikes an emotional cord deep with in us.

So it is with our trees. Each one is there for reason or another. My question to all you have been at this longer than I is when does a tree in a pot become bonsai?

JRob
 

TimD

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I was watching a video from japan with a friend and they showed these seedlings a guy would pluck out of the soil with tweezers (they were that small) and stick them in these teeny tiny pea size pots he made and add maybe 4-5 grains of soil to it.

They showed the shops where they were sold and folks going bonkers over them..... I looked at my friend and said "Thats not Bonsai!!" He turned and said "Bonsai means tree in a Pot"....

So although I don't look at even half my collection as being "Bonsai" they could all be classified as such.

What I think your asking though is when is one a refined Bonsai. The crappy Picaso's are still Picaso's. It's the ones that appeal to others for whatever reason that are considered masterpieces as you mentioned.

For me it would be when one of my trees starts taking on the shape I've envisioned. Pads become clear. It's outline is set and I'm just working on some ramification... and it takes more than 5 grains of soil to fill the pot.
 

TheSteve

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To me it's when the vast amounts of time and effort bear fruit. A bonsai pot should be the last thing you do to a tree. They can't develop well in them. When they show refinement and some sort of a style and training then they can begin to be called bonsai. anybody can grab something off a shelf and put it in a pot.
 
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JRob,
To me the definition in it's purest is what a bonsai is,,
A tree, in a pot,, or similar meanings there of.
But WHAT differs a Bonsai from a Show-able Bonsai or masterpiece,,,, that is where the Judges,
Critiques (you and I and a few more), and the rest separate their personal opinions.
In other words,,,,
the tree I have may be a bonsai by definition,, but not be a Bonsai in your eyes,, (or anyone's
else). I guess its best said that,,,
Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder>
I hope this can help you on a quest that I'm afraid that alot have been searching for a long time.
Sincerely,,,
Kevin J
 

nsmar4211

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To me it's the intent and a matter of degrees. My flowers in a pot are not bonsai......because that's not my intent for them. My jaboticaba are not yet bonsai, because they are not refined enough....i.e. not far enough along. If 100% is a finished bonsai and 10% is a stick in a pot, they're about oh 30%.

Most of what I have is nothing I'd show to other bonsai enthusiasts..... but the "general public" (i.e. friends) think they look like great bonsai.

This is a question in any art that's hard to answer :).
 

subnet_rx

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My contention has always been...when the artist says it's a bonsai.
 

pauldogx

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My contention has always been...when the artist says it's a bonsai.

I have to humbly disagree with this statement. There are established standards of Bonsai that have been developed in China and Japan. Whether we embellish these or advance the art form or put a cultural style on it is beside the point. It's not just a tree in a pot. You are trying to achieve the illusion of an ANCIENT tree in a pot.

It would be like calling a knife fight Kendo---similar but not the same.
 

cquinn

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I have to humbly disagree with this statement. There are established standards of Bonsai that have been developed in China and Japan. Whether we embellish these or advance the art form or put a cultural style on it is beside the point. It's not just a tree in a pot. You are trying to achieve the illusion of an ANCIENT tree in a pot.

It would be like calling a knife fight Kendo---similar but not the same.


It can look like a young tree too. The real test as to whether it is a bonsai or not is whether it evokes emotion. It has to take you somewhere else. You should forget what you are looking at, the word bonsai should not come to mind. You should be able to get lost in the composition of pot and tree. I think very few attain this level. This in my humble opinion is the real purpose of bonsai. Simply making a shrub or tree look like a small tree is only a step in the process. Things like potting angle, top dressing, correct pot, and other elements of display really bring it together. That's where the Japanese excel. Its a lot more than making a small tree look old. That again is only a section of the path IMHO.
 

subnet_rx

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The reason I contend this is because bonsai is art. The artist tells us when his piece is finished, not the viewer. Whether it's good art or not, is up to the viewer. I think to establish standards for bonsai is limiting creativeness.
 

pauldogx

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Things like potting angle, top dressing, correct pot, and other elements of display really bring it together. That's where the Japanese excel. Its a lot more than making a small tree look old. That again is only a section of the path IMHO.

I agree---my reply was somewhat incomplete. I think display is an area we need to improve on here in the US. I was just at the MABS convention(Mid Atlantic Bonsai Society) in NY and that is an area of improvement all the visiting artists pointed out while critiquing the exhibit trees. Better refinement was mentioned as well.

The visiting artists would not have agreed with you on the young tree thing though. Farrand Bloch was adamant that several of the trees looked young and immature and were not ready for display.

David Easterbrook pointed out that we in the US tend to rely on the single trunk trees too much and encouraged folks to explore more forests , rock plantings, raft styles etc.

Walter---I agree with you statement as well---that aspect has to be there!!!!! Do you not feel though that there are certain basic parameters that were established by the founders of the art form?? IE--things that if they are absent that it ceases to be Bonsai and becomes something else???
 
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Smoke

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The United States Supreme Court defines bonsai as "You Know It When You See It".:eek:
 

shohin kid

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When it has a soul and thus can touch your soul.

That not only defines when a tree in a pot is considered bonsai, but it should also be why we do bonsai.

Let's bring this thread back.


Does anyone else find themselves refining their collection from sticks to trees?
 
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greerhw

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Good Afternoon All,

Pablo Picasso was the most influential visual artist of the 20th C. The experts all agree whether they personally like his work or not that his masterpieces deserve to be hung in the most important museums in the world. All critics would agree that not every one of his creations was a masterpiece.

Few of us can afford an original Picasso let alone one of his masterpiece. The art we hang in our homes is there because it strikes an emotional cord deep with in us.

So it is with our trees. Each one is there for reason or another. My question to all you have been at this longer than I is when does a tree in a pot become bonsai?

JRob

When it looks like a bonsai !

keep it green,
Harry
 

Daysleeper

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When you can imagine yourself as a tiny person standing underneath the tree and looking up in awe. But maybe I'm just crazy. I've never had a tree I can label as a bonsai. I don't think I will ever have a bonsai. The training, growing and overall creation excites me more.
 
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In an article I wrote over at AoB, I offered the following definition for a bonsai, "A living, artistically created, idealized vision of a tree, cultivated in a container."

Such a creation would indeed touch the soul, as Walter mentioned.


The word bonsai, according to William Valavanis, translates directly as "to plant into a shallow container."

The word tree or pot is not part of the word at all.



Will
 

grouper52

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I’d like to observe here that folks are seeking a definition of bonsai. I’d like to then build on the approach to the definition of “Art” that I attempted in the little treatise, “The Ancient Greeks and the Bonsai Flame Wars,” which I believe still resides on the Eristic Forum at Art of Bonsai http://www.artofbonsai.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=2583 (where there is also, BTW, an article and thread on “Defining Bonsai” started by Will Heath).

If one follows my line of reasoning in the article, one arrives at my definition of “art”, or at least visual art, as:

Visual Art is a human activity that creates a visual form for the purpose of evoking an inspiring emotional response in viewers. The forms created we call Objects of Visual Art.

To build on that would simply require, if we consider bonsai as such a visual art, a further definition of the visual forms, the Objects of Visual Art, that include ALL bonsai and ONLY bonsai.

Perhaps we can agree that all bonsai are living plants, and perhaps we can further agree that all bonsai are woody, perennial plants.

Perhaps we can agree that all bonsai live out of the ground, yet with roots in a solid substrate contained in pots or on slabs.

So ALL bonsai are woody perennial plants living out of the ground in a solid substrate in a container: Does this definition also apply ONLY to bonsai? Clearly it does not, since a house plant can fulfill this definition.

Therefore, perhaps we can agree that ALL and ONLY bonsai are such plants created as Objects of Visual Art, as defined above - a visual form created for the purpose of evoking an inspiring emotional response in viewers.

As one can figure out from my AOB article, whether or not one actually ACHIEVES that response in any given viewer is immaterial to the definition - all that is needed is that the bonsai was created in order to evoke such a response, not that it succeeds. It matters not at all to the definition whether a bonsai is a “good” bonsai or a “bad” bonsai, a masterpiece or a shitty SIAP with atrocious wiring and a spider mite infestation. All that matters is that the person who created it had that intention.

As I mentioned in the AOB article, this approach then avoids the endless and fruitless discussions laden with value judgments about whether a bonsai needs to be of such and such a quality to be considered a bonsai. Sorry - that discussion can still be had for those who enjoy such things, but it has no bearing on the definition as proposed here.

To recap:

A bonsai is a woody perennial plant living out of the ground in a solid substrate in a container, created by someone for the purpose of evoking an inspiring emotional response in the viewer.

G52
 
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I agree.

I imagine it would also be safe to say that plants meeting the above definition AND succeed in evoking an inspiring emotional response cross over into the realm of art.



Oops, sorry, I arted. ;)



Will
 

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