Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hello Arthur, hello Walter

Hello Walter,

Thank you for sharing your impressions of the state of bonsai in the EU. You stressed that what you offered were your opinions only, and I want to assure you I understand them to be such. Much as I admire what you do and what you know I never confuse your opinions with objective fact. I seek your opinion, though, not only because I think it to be well informed but because you make it so abundantly available! It is only half a joke for me to say that - at present you are the only EU-based bonsai professional who regularly participates on the IBC public forum. It used to be that others did, too. In fact, a friend of mine once said, when I asked him why he participated on another bonsai forum and not the IBC, he did not post here because the IBC was too "Eurocentric". At one time he might have been able to make a good case for that, but no longer.

I want to clarify my position as regards the issue of Japanese influence in American and, from what you say, European bonsai. I have no desire to throw away all the valuable information we have learned from our Japanese teachers, starting over from scratch, any more than I mean to disrespect the Japanese when I acknowledge how they have promoted and reinforced the idea of the bonsai concept being a Japanese product. My primary bonsai teacher was Yuji Yoshimura. I spent time studying bonsai in Japan with Susumu Nakamura in an arrangement facilitated by the Nippon Bonsai Association. I am, as previously stated on several occasions, grateful for what was shared with me personally by Japanese teachers, and I am grateful for what the Japanese bonsai industry did in bringing the art of bonsai to the Western world. That should be entirely understood. My perspective, however, is that whatever our beginnings might be we should move on from there, hopefully in a direction that proves to be forward.

Here is a personal statement I have been making for a long time: [b]Bonsai is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end[/b].

I do not do bonsai because I want to own bonsai. As a matter of fact, I do not own bonsai and do not wish to acquire any. Likewise, the primary end I seek through bonsai is not to earn a paycheck, although I am fortunate enough to have that arrangement. If the end I sought was primarily money I would have quit bonsai a long time ago and found some better means toward that end. And at the risk of saying the same thing over and over, or repeating myself, or otherwise being redundant, I do not care enough about any foreign culture to do bonsai as a means to express that appreciation.

My own strongest inclinations are toward creative expression, coupled with an appreciation of the wonder of the natural world. Additionally, as a human being, for reasons completely beyond my control (and frequently enough also beyond my understanding) I have a compelling need to communicate with other human beings, in a way that goes beyond the basic sort of verbalization required of any of us to successfully navigate our way through everyday life. Without my ever having consciously sought it out, bonsai presented itself to me as a vehicle for achieving all three of these personal needs.

Bonsai is a challenging form of creative expression. As a creatively inclined individual I have worked in a number of different mediums, and I find bonsai to be unique for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of it is that the medium is alive and growing, which means constantly changing. It is also growing at a relatively slow rate which brings in the element of time, as in prolonged periods of waiting for developments to occur before the work may progress, which demands a level of patience that is not called for in other creative mediums. Plants do not think, as far as I know, but they behave as if they have minds of their own, and a bonsai grower is therefore obliged to share the creative process with the subject that is being shaped. Most critically, the medium is alive and must be kept alive in order to maintain its integrity, which demands the grower be capable of keeping it alive, perpetually.

In this way bonsai connects directly with the natural world, as it uses a piece of nature as the medium. Beyond that, however, the bonsai medium can be used to reflect an experience of nature as its message. It [i]can[/i] be used that way, but it does not have to be. I prefer it that way because whatever medium I might choose to use as my creative vehicle I mostly want to communicate about my experience of the natural world. This is why I find more personal attraction in Naturalistic style bonsai than any other. Classical bonsai is an expression of nature viewed through the lens of a (for me) foreign culture. Neoclassical bonsai is an interpretation, a second-hand retelling, of an expression of nature viewed through the lens of foreign culture. Modern bonsai style subordinates nature almost entirely to a human impulse toward abstraction and a design theory predicated on precise and total control. Naturalistic bonsai involves a human being observing and otherwise experiencing nature and then creating something that expresses what he or she learned and felt as a result of doing so.

When I wrote the passage you just read I had to struggle to come up with the right words to express myself. When I create a naturalistic bonsai all I have to do is put it in front of another human being:

[url=http://www.servimg.com/view/18135461/973][img]http://i84.servimg.com/u/f84/18/13/54/61/img_8911.jpg[/img][/url]

Bonsai allows me to communicate with other human beings on a level that supersedes speech.

Why am I writing these things to you? Well, of all the other bonsai professionals I have met you are one of the very few who seems to think about bonsai in a way reasonably similar to my own. Even if we do not agree on all points, and I know we do not, I think you well understand where I am coming from. And in much of your work I can discern the spirit of someone who has a sensitivity to the wonder of trees in nature, feels the need to express it, and has the creative wherewithal to do so with artistic flair (I cannot say I see these things in all your bonsai because your modernistic work has little to do with the wonder of trees in nature and everything to do with artistic flair.) You also have the ego that allows (demands) you to project your ideas out into the world and the intellect to express those ideas effectively with words. It helps, too, that you make yourself accessible through the Internet, and who else among the big dogs of bonsai does that?

Of course, I am not writing these things only to you. The obvious intent of this open correspondence is to invite others to eavesdrop on the exchange. I am ostensibly writing to you, but I am really writing to anyone who cares to read it, and you are replying in kind. That is the very nature of an open correspondence. We are doing this on a public forum, as one reader so astutely pointed out, so naturally we have put this exchange out there for others to comment on as they see fit. There has been a little bit of response and some of it has been worth reading, but overall we do not seem to be generating all that much interest. The usual handful of people who are active on the forum have contributed to this discussion and I appreciate their involvement. Part of the problem is that so few people are active anymore. In the old days of the IBC, when the forum was alive with many participants, some of whom were professionals and many others of whom were longtime hobbyists with a lot of experience and very good personal collections, such a correspondence as we are having now might have crashed the site! We would have had so many responses we might not have gotten in another word edgewise, and we would have taken so much abuse from those of the fundamentalist persuasion that we might have backed down in fear of their verbal violence. Well, I might have. I am certain you would have risen to the occasion.


Dear Arthur,

[quote="Arthur Joura"]
My perspective, however, is that whatever our beginnings might be we should move on from there, hopefully in a direction that proves to be forward.[/quote]

Sure, I absolutely agree. The bonsai scene often enough makes me state that this is the most backward looking art scene that I know of. In every other art form they compete in who is the most rebellious, who has invented the most unique thing. In bonsai they argue about who is following rules.


[quote="Arthur Joura"]Here is a personal statement I have been making for a long time: [b]Bonsai is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end[/b].[/quote]

Absolutely!

[quote="Arthur Joura"]Most critically, the medium is alive and must be kept alive in order to maintain its integrity, which demands the grower be capable of keeping it alive, perpetually.[/quote]

You have not touched an aspect that is more and more important to me and probably to many others. One cannot choose to do bonsai whenever you feel like it and leave the trees alone in the meanwhile. Whether you like it or not, you have to watch and care for them every day. It is much like an old fashioned farmer. Whether he likes it or not, he is forced to care for his farm every single day of the year. This keeps him busy and healthy, mentally and physically, much like a bonsai master. Bonsai masters become very old most of the time. They are forced to work physically and mentally every single day. And they have a good reason to see the next spring again.

The other phenomenon is that your trees are getting better the older you are if you know what you are doing. Your skills are getting better by the nature of the beast called bonsai. In most fields in life you are done after a certain age. You are not taken for serious anymore one day - sooner than you like. Not so in bonsai. You can progress much longer than in most fields. One can be VERY old and still be a respected master.

[quote="Arthur Joura"]Of course, I am not writing these things only to you. The obvious intent of this open correspondence is to invite others to eavesdrop on the exchange. I am ostensibly writing to you, but I am really writing to anyone who cares to read it, and you are replying in kind. That is the very nature of an open correspondence. We are doing this on a public forum, as one reader so astutely pointed out, so naturally we have put this exchange out there for others to comment on as they see fit. [/quote]

This is the internet way of a podium discussion. A couple of well chosen folks are on stage and discuss stuff. The audience can listen to everything. The audience has an opinion and can voice it. They can discuss this under themselves. But the panel goes on with their discussion as if there were no viewers. But it is, of course, all for these viewers. Why then does the panel not discuss with the audience? Because that would interrupt the flow of thoughts too much. There is a very wide range of know how, intellect, linguistic abilities, opinions etc. If everyone had a say we would end like this other forum – The end of civilization.




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