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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Worthless discussion about bonsai styles?

Worthless discussion about bonsai styles?

A few years ago I had the pleasure to interview Kimura. among other things I asked him 'you have started what now has become modern bonsai style. How and why did this happen?'.He answered along the lines 'I have started nothing, I always did and do traditional bonsai'. He apparently was not ready to comment further on this subject.

Ryan Neil, who has studied under Kimura for 6 years a very recently said something along these lines: 'In Japan the subject bonsai styles (in the sense of movements is not discussed all. They just do bonsai. They don't discuss whether bonsai is an art form or not.' Ryan, while quite open about any subject, seemed to not want to speak about bonsai styles either. Boon, one of the present stars in American bonsai is quoted ons saying on many occasions 'this discussion about bonsai styles is totally superfluous and counterproductive. There are no bonsai 'styles', there are only good bonsai or bad bonsai.'

So one can conclude that at least three very important people in the bonsai world are going into the same direction about this issue. Their verdict must be authoritative. Well, I am sure one could find several dozen more important bonsai people who are of similar opinion. When this subject comes up on the internet there are always a few rather heavyweights who try to close the discussion by making clear that this is fruitless. While some of these could be called bonsai fundamentalists it would not be fair at all to say that only bonsai fundamentalists refuse a discussion. It is, however, obvious, that the majority of the nay-sayers are artists themselves, successfully so.

So shall we stop this 'totally superfluous' discussion from now on? Let's recapitulate. Boon said it the best. 'There are only good bonsai or bad bonsai. OK, let's look at other fields: To make differences in styles of music is totally superfluous, there is only good music or bad music. To make differences in styles of food is totally superfluous, there is only good food or bad food. One could go on and find many more most monstrous and outlandish statements like these.

What is my take on this? Why do I discuss this so often? Well, it comes from the fact that over the years I set in my garden and just did bonsai, trying to do good bonsai. I have the great luck to not have to sell what I make. Therefore I can create something that I like and don't have to think about other people's taste. I honestly try very hard to create something that is really good and it takes quite awhile until I myself am impressed about my work. When that is so I often publish the result to share it with others. Almost every time I did so I got hammered by a few. I was asked how I could create such lousy things and call them 'art' - and similar. Every time I was shocked to see a harmless sharing of what I thought was good work end in a battle with all sorts of honest and some evil minded individuals. 

This experience I had many times and it made me think hard about bonsai taste. As a result I came up with what by now is the almost legendary 'styles and forms' script. Later on I wrote a lot about these things. All fruitless and worthless? Well, I came to the conclusion, that just as it is very important to differentiate between styles of music and food this is also true about bonsai styles. It is to be able to discuss intelligently, to create a code that is commonly understood, to not have to start every conversation with telling the other one what you mean. It is not enough to call it 'food'. The discussion would make much more sens if I called it 'Italian food - namely spaghetti - original as in Italy'. In bonsai discussions it would make things a lot easier if everybody would know what was meant by 'modern bonsai - Italian dialect'. Well, they don't. 
Recently I had this epiphany: The artists are better off if they don't care about this. They just have to do their work. They can rightfully refuse to discuss about this systematization. But the general crowd that discusses bonsai is much better of in developing some code to be able to talk intelligently. So don't listen to the artists, to the heavyweights. They are speaking about their own personal situation where it is OK to not care about such things.

So BTW what is 'modern bonsai - Italian dialect'?
Well here is a famous tree by Enrico Savini. That's what is meant. Why modern and what is a bonsai dialect? Great! Now we can start to discuss intelligently.


  1. Hello,

    Thanks for your sweet comment. You're the best of the best, you know?!!!

  2. Wonderful. Keep on telling it like it is Walter!