American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  AlainK on Sat Feb 13, 2016 8:36 am

Vance Wood wrote:
You are right, my bad, and this is the reason I dispise pseudonyms, it is too hard to remember one and always associate it with an individual.  The tendency for me to confuse them is a constant threat understanding that I have a problem with names to begin with.  

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sat Feb 13, 2016 10:32 am

Guys and Gals,

do you realise a few realities -

[1] Arthur described himself as - a Gardener -, one who knows how, but only does on work, not at home.
Noted this situation years ago down here in Agriculture - many folk work in the various offices of Agriculture,
but home was devoid of greenery.
A bit odd.

[2] As regards - DOING YOUR OWN THING [ as we say down here ] in order to not fall into mediocre work, as Design goes

[a] Some form of study - Trees mature or old age shapes - example - the Swamp Cypress.
So you note 10 to 20 examples of distinctive shapes of the Swamp Cypress and figure through Drawing from reality or
Photos, what you consider to be best parts.
Then work that into several trees, ultimately producing an individual or individuals, that in one glance says - Swamp Cypress.

Unfortunately, you will have to build off of what is already there, no need to re-invent the wheel.

So you have to have some way of starting and mastering what is already there.
Much slower to do with a growing situation, than say a pencil and paper and oil paint and canvas.

[b] Note that during the 12th or 13th centuries, there was cross fertilisation in Art in Europe and China.
Eventually the European became European, as did the Chinese become Chinese.

[c] The problem of something becoming your own, is if you have the personality, the training or technique
if you prefer, to grow into what you should be.

So it is no good saying, WE DOING WE OWN THING - if you have nothing to say, no technique and have not
studied nature.

[d] Honesty time---------

how many of you have actually sat and studied through drawing or other, mature and old age
examples of a single species of tree ?

First the tree, then the pot and finally how to display. Evolve.

A lot of time and energy to put into something that often only consumes $$.
Is of no real significance as day to day living goes.
AND has been around for centuries in a polished form.

Think about the discipline needed.
Laters.
Khaimraj

* Ever wonder how lucky I am to be a - Fine Artist - grows veggies Rodale organic farming style and Bonsai is a hobby and I can do pottery. Evil or Very Mad  Laughing

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  AlainK on Sat Feb 13, 2016 5:52 pm

Discipline?

How I hate this word!

Knowledge, yes! The rest is a matter of taste.

Cultivation, techniques, whatever you achieve through technique. As long as you can keep a tree alive and healthy, why try to conform to norms, or "discipline"? Being someone's "disciple" is not my cup of tea.

Of course, knowledge means learning, but I much prefer an autodidactic approach, learning from what "turns you on" rather than practising scales for years before learning what pleasure, or inspiration you can get from listening to JS Bach, Eurythmics or Frank Zappa. I learnt a lot from very good artists (I like to call them artists) in my club, some of them top-members/trainers in France. This doesn't mean I always agreed with their suggestions about the design of a tree (1).

I will go as far as to say that bonsai is like religion: without undue immodesty, I think I know a lot more about religions (plural) than many, but I'm an atheist. Many know more about bonsai techniques than I will ever do, yet, I'm not ready to be part of a cult.

(1) : a song to take some distance from that overly serious discussion. It was written by a very popular French singer after a painful separation, you probably didn't know that, did you? another example of how culture is permeable  Cool




Cheesy, isn't it? Very Happy

Even cheesier, the French (original) version (first release: 1967):




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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Sat Feb 13, 2016 7:01 pm

AlainK wrote:Discipline?

How I hate this word!

Knowledge, yes! The rest is a matter of taste.

Cultivation, techniques, whatever you achieve through technique. As long as you can keep a tree alive and healthy, why try to conform to norms, or "discipline"? Being someone's "disciple" is not my cup of tea.

Of course, knowledge means learning, but I much prefer an autodidactic approach, learning from what "turns you on" rather than practising scales for years before learning what pleasure, or inspiration you can get from listening to JS Bach, Eurythmics or Frank Zappa. I learnt a lot from very good artists (I like to call them artists) in my club, some of them top-members/trainers in France. This doesn't mean I always agreed with their suggestions about the design of a tree (1).

I will go as far as to say that bonsai is like religion: without undue immodesty, I think I know a lot more about religions (plural) than many, but I'm an atheist. Many know more about bonsai techniques than I will ever do, yet, I'm not ready to be part of a cult.

(1) : a song to take some distance from that overly serious discussion. It was written by a very popular French singer after a painful separation, you probably didn't know that, did you? another example of how culture is permeable  Cool




Cheesy, isn't it? Very Happy

Even cheesier, the French (original) version (first release: 1967):




You just have to be careful that in your desire to be the ultimate non-conformist that you don't develop bonsai that look more like salad on a stick than anything resembling a bonsai.  In order to be what one would consider and advancement in what we know as bonsai, that which you create must be perceivable as a bonsai even if it is a really bad and really ugly bonsai.  A bowl of Lemon Jello will not pass as an original form of bonsai, no matter how you argue the point or brow beat those who disagree with it.

You can make your bonsai as ugly, or strange or convoluted and twisted as you prefer. Just remember there are two aspects to art: Those who create art and those who view it. If those who view it;--- hate what those who create ---have created, then what will you do? Yell at them,---- because they did not understand the genius you displayed and drew forth from you fertile imagination?

You will find yourself in the same position of God; who created, what he created, for those who hated what he created. Interesting conundrum. The only way of not being held accountable for what you are doing or creating is not to demonstrate it. Which brings up another issue: Bonsai should be seen and the artistry should be appreciated, which leaves the conclusion that if you are not going to show your bonsai because your artistry is so superior and above the rest of us mere mortals it would be like God letting us mortal's read the scroll with the 7 seals. It is equally as bad to discuss that which you are unwilling to show or prove. We are left with one conclusion: You may be full of crap.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  AlainK on Sat Feb 13, 2016 7:49 pm

Once again, we can see a major cultural difference here, the same as those that built up one's views of the world, and bonsai:


(...) You will find yourself in the same position of God; who created, what he created, for those who hated what he created. (...)

Etc: typical of the rethorics of evangelists. No, I maintain, the earth is not flat, and there is no "God".


(...) A bowl of Lemon Jello will not pass as an original form of bonsai, no matter how you argue the point or brow beat those who disagree with it. (...)

???  Rolling Eyes

Vance, this is total nonsense, it doesn't mean a thing. You call that an argument?  Crying or Very sad

I wanted to take this thread on the lighter side, apparently we don't have the same sense of humour. as a French comedian asked: "Can we laugh of everything? Yes, but not with anyone."

Idea






I wonder what Monsieur Paul would make of that...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_%28bakery%29

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Tom on Sat Feb 13, 2016 10:59 pm

Vance Wood wrote: Bonsai should be seen and the artistry should be appreciated, which leaves the conclusion that if you are not going to show your bonsai because your artistry is so superior and above the rest of us mere mortals  it would be like God letting us mortal's read the scroll with the 7 seals.  It is equally as bad to discuss that which you are unwilling to show or prove.  We are left with one conclusion:  You may be full of crap.

Vance, I am not sure if it is Alain you are addressing this to personally, or if it is just a general theme.

However, if it is Alain personally, then I will say - because he probably won't - that he regularly shows his work, here and elsewhere. He is modest about his trees, and while they may not be spectacular Kokufu winners (sorry Alain! Smile ) his work is typically elegant and sensitively styled. It is as far from 'salad on a stick' as your own trees are.

In general I think there is too much heat in this discussion.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Sat Feb 13, 2016 11:48 pm

Tom wrote:
Vance Wood wrote: Bonsai should be seen and the artistry should be appreciated, which leaves the conclusion that if you are not going to show your bonsai because your artistry is so superior and above the rest of us mere mortals  it would be like God letting us mortal's read the scroll with the 7 seals.  It is equally as bad to discuss that which you are unwilling to show or prove.  We are left with one conclusion:  You may be full of crap.

Vance, I am not sure if it is Alain you are addressing this to personally, or if it is just a general theme.

However, if it is Alain personally, then I will say - because he probably won't - that he regularly shows his work, here and elsewhere. He is modest about his trees, and while they may not be spectacular Kokufu winners (sorry Alain! Smile ) his work is typically elegant and sensitively styled. It is as far from 'salad on a stick' as your own trees are.

In general I think there is too much heat in this discussion.

Tom: I was not addressing his work personally, I was addressing his ideas and how they can be taken to extremes. That's what you get for getting in on the end of a conversation. Have you been hiding somewhere?

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  fiona on Sun Feb 14, 2016 9:46 am

Oh. For. Howevermanyasterisksyoulike's. Sake.


I've just about had enough with this thread.

Shut up with the personal insults will y'all.  I have seriously never felt so much like quitting this entire forum as I do right now.

A good, nay a great thread, in danger of going into tatters.  

Again!


*insert suitable emoticons here depending on whether you think I am being serious or sarcastic. LOL *

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Too Serious

Post  Bolero on Sun Feb 14, 2016 1:59 pm

Awww you are being too Sensitive and Serious....let it run, all good comments, Vance is just telling it like it is from his POV...we have a lot of Bonsai Snobs on the IBC and sometimes they need sorting out...

Its interesting to here AJ's Reply's to WP and I am looking forward to his 3rd response on the subject of "Just what is Bonsai anyway"(Paraphrased)...

Personally I believe Bonsai is the Tree Art of Chinese and Japanese efforts... often Centuries old and always Inspiring.

I lack the patience, time, and temperment to do True Bonsai following Chinese and Japanese examples.....so I do (Bonsai) Landscape Gardening... instant, so to speak, gratification.

I also do a lot of smallish Japanese Maple Saikei,Penjing... again instant gratification.

and I truly appreciate and admire the older(as in many years older) examples of True Bonsai....

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Sun Feb 14, 2016 2:09 pm

Thank You. I wish I knew what it is that brings out the worst in people. Everybody seems to think I'm a horrible person but no one can tell me how or why.

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Reality

Post  Bolero on Sun Feb 14, 2016 3:54 pm

Vance Wood wrote:Thank You.  I wish I knew what it is that brings out the worst in people.  Everybody seems to think I'm a horrible person but no one can tell me how or why.

Vance you are just too Real in your Postings, you say what's on your mind, Good or Bad and that ticks off a lot of people and also most don't read between the lines and can't get past exactly what you say...

Couple years ago on Bonsai Nut You put up a picture of an old and distressed Mugo that you were asking restyle opinions,,,I ripped it really hard and told you to cut it down and start over, do you remember that ?

You cut me back really hard, you really do speak your mind, Right or Wrong....

I've got to get over to Telly's one day this spring and meet you, I'll bring some scissors to help you figure out your Mugo's...

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:01 pm

Vance,

you are just fine. Please don't change.
Laters
Khaimraj

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Walter Pall on Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:08 pm

Hello Arthur,

Arthur Joura wrote:
In our previous exchanges we have come to agreement about a number of ideas and observations. We took the time to go over the prevailing bonsai styles of our day - Neoclassical, Modern, Naturalistic - defining them with words and pictures. We know not everyone in bonsai is in agreement about all this. Some people still deny the existence of these classifications, preferring to think in terms of "good bonsai and bad bonsai", while others are willing to accept that they might exist but seem to have difficulty distinguishing one from another, and still others simply do not care. The time is now passed for trying to bring along those who drag their feet, either through indifference or rejection of the premise or the inability to understand regardless how many times it might be explained. The time has come to press forward with our discussion, and those who want to follow it may and those who do not should not bother. Up until now I have been mostly asking you questions but now I have statements to make. Of course I am still interested in what you think, but now I am in an almost psychotherapeutic mode, talking out thoughts that have been gathering in my mind for a long time, and hoping the act of fully exposing them will bring some sense of conclusion.

Indeed, the time has come to not even ignore the doubters anymore. As you know I have been in this missionary phase since around twenty years. The immense rejection in the beginning is gone. It is still there, but seems to become a minority opinion. In a seminar some months ago I had this epiphany: I went through  all these styles and explained this and that and what exactly 'Naturalistic' means anyway. At one point a serious looking young man said 'Why are you so aggressive and apologetic about this Naturalistic Style? It is mainstream bonsai anyway and you cannot change this.' Really!!! Mainstream?? Wow, it is time to invent a new style, I think.



Arthur Joura wrote: I was told very early on, by no less an authority than the Executive Director, that there was no place for culturally foreign artifacts at the NC Arboretum. A large part of our institution's mission is to interpret and promote Southern Appalachian flora and culture, and the standard treatment of bonsai as an expression of Japanese culture, however fascinating and venerable, would be out of place. If bonsai was to have a home at the NC Arboretum, it would have to be something other than what most people conceive it to be. (Did I ever tell you about being told this? Maybe not, because I seldom mention it.)

No, you never told me in all the long conversations that we had. Very interesting!



Arthur Joura wrote: I have no professional interest in bonsai beyond my job as curator of the NC Arboretum bonsai collection. I often teach and do work on other people's trees, but only in my capacity as an Arboretum employee. I have no private clients, and no "students" in the way that term is typically used in reference to a bonsai professional. In short, I have no goods or services to sell. I find this to be most liberating and would not have it any other way.


This is VERY interesting again and revealing. With this frame of mind you are indeed free. A couple hundred to one thousand  artists and teachers in the world have maybe one hundred thousand potential customers. And what do you do if you have customers? You do what they like and what they pay for. The overwhelming majority of bonsai artists is  not free - they have to earn a living. I know a lot who do one thing for the public and another one for themselves. You, Arthur, and I have the enormous luck of not needing to bend ourselves towards some market. We can do what we like and say what we think. This definitely does not make you popular per se - quite the contrary. Burt free it makes you.


Arthur Joura wrote: My own lack of experience in bonsai, the fact that I was not a hobbyist beforehand, meant I came to the task with few preconceived notions. The fact that the Arboretum was out of the bonsai mainstream, beyond the immediate influence of established authorities, meant we had no one looking over our shoulder and telling us what we were doing wrong. The lack of an already established audience in our region meant we could build our own and make it more inclusive. And what about the mandate from the Executive Director, that our bonsai would have to be something other than the stereotypical image of an "ancient Japanese art"? That was the key ingredient in the whole enterprise.

You are pointing this out because in America it is unusual. As I see it there was very strong Japanese influence in America right from the beginning. People did have somehow who looked over their shoulders and who clapped their fingers if they did wrong. In Europe the situation, at least for me, was very much as you describe your own. We had no one to clap our fingers. so we were free right from the outset. We did an awful lot of nonsense, but we did a few things right. The outcome is a flourishing European bonsai scene which is rapidly moving away ftom the Japanese model.

Arthur Joura wrote: I must confess I needed little encouragement to disengage with all the Japanese baggage that usually accompanies bonsai. I have absolutely nothing against Japanese people or Japanese culture (despite slanderous statements to the contrary made in public by an international bonsai artist), but I have no special attraction to them, either. I try to get along with everyone and respect all cultures, but Japanese culture is no more specially appealing to me than French or Australian or Mexican culture.

This is very important to mention. Too often we find this notion that we 'hate' Japanese in what we do and say. NO, we don't we just are indifferent.
When playing classical music, do you necessarily HAVE to love Austrian or German culture? Do you have to be very interested in it? No, it is not necessary to know much about Salzburg to enjoy Mozart's music.

'A person who is not totally immersed in Salzburg culture cannot really understand Mozart's music.' What a statement!! 'A person who is not totally immersed in Japanese culture cannot rally understand bonsai.' This is a statement that one hears directly from Westerners or indirectly  from Japanese. We got used to it but it is just as atrocious a statement as the one about music.

For many bonsai is indeed very much connected to the Japanese culture and they love it. We must understand  this and take no offense of it. This is their way of looking at it. This only becomes a problem when they make it clear that their view is the only right one. Reminds me much of politics these days.

Arthur Joura wrote: The question was, if bonsai is not to be about Japanese culture, what is it to be about? Put another way the question comes out like this: If you take out of bonsai all the obviously Japanese stuff, what do you have left?

Good question! We have left the love of nature, specifically the love for forests and trees.  The desire to use small living trees to mimic what we enjoy so much in large trees. The will to learn about the immense wealth of gardening know how of growing little trees in containers. The strong will to work so long with an ugly stick and smile at it until it one day smiles back at you. Only you see it as the mother sees the first smile of the baby. One day other people see it too. And after a long period of success and drawbacks the whole thing shines and everybody can see it. If you have done it once you want to do it again, and again and again. You want to give up an honest job and only do this . And you actually give up your honest job. And then you are happy. Until you start to teach. Then you will go through a period of decades when you feel all the hatred that someone gets who rocks the boat, who prays to the wrong gods, who pulls out the carpet underneath the feet of the establishment. And when you survive these decades all of a sudden you are a walking legend and people like you and even listen to you.

If this all that's left if you take out the obviously Japanese stuff it is enough for me


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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:16 pm

Khaimraj Seepersad wrote:Vance,

you are just fine. Please don't change.
Laters
Khaimraj

Thank You

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:22 pm

Bolero wrote:
Vance Wood wrote:Thank You.  I wish I knew what it is that brings out the worst in people.  Everybody seems to think I'm a horrible person but no one can tell me how or why.

Vance you are just too Real in your Postings, you say what's on your mind, Good or Bad and that ticks off a lot of people and also most don't read between the lines and can't get past exactly what you say...

Couple years ago on Bonsai Nut You put up a picture of an old and distressed Mugo that you were asking restyle opinions,,,I ripped it really hard and told you to cut it down and start over, do you remember that ?

You cut me back really hard, you really do speak your mind, Right or Wrong....

I've got to get over to Telly's one day this spring and meet you, I'll bring some scissors to help you figure out your Mugo's...

We are no longer at Telly's, we relocated to Bordines in Rochester Hills. You are on our mailing list I assume? That will tell you the times and dates of our meetings.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Walter Pall on Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:28 pm

Hi Arthur

Arthur Joura wrote: For many there is no bonsai without the Japanese identity. Take away the Japanese stuff and that which is left cannot rightly be called bonsai, that is how integral the one is to the other.

This is true for a majority. Well, it comes from their upbringing, from where they come from. And at present bonsai IS a Japanese art form which exactly now is diverting into many different versions around the world. The more this is progressing the more the new trees look different and the new generation of artists enjoys more freedom. But it is a gradual change most of the time.

Arthur Joura wrote:Yet through thoughtful consideration I have found this cultural linkage to be unnecessary.

Many thing in life are unnecessary. The question is whether this enhances or hinders the progression of the art of bonsai in general. There are some hints that it hinders. At least many feel that way. I do sometimes.

Arthur Joura wrote:Stripped down to its essential elements - a miniaturized plant, shaped by a human being and cultivated out of the ground - that practice we commonly call by the name "bonsai" has no intrinsic cultural identification by definition.

This is true. But if I take your comment for face value it means that everybody has to start from scratch again. I am sure that this is not a good idea. The findings of others over centuries, the Chinese and the Japanese are of high value. It does not make sense to discard the horticulture and the artistic past. The question is only how we use it. Do we think that we 'owe a lot to them' or that we 'look back In deep respect', or even 'we try as hard as we can to accomplish bonsai as they have'. All this sounds nice, reasonable and honorable. But this is exactly what hinders many of us to progress. Well, fact is most do not even think about progress. They like the status quo and want to keep it that way. Folks like you and me are bad because we rock the boat and want to progress while in the eyes of the majority we are destroying what is so good anyway and show no respect to these who taught us.
OK, how much respect do you think does the German soccer team pay to the British inventors of the game. And the Williams Sisters sing  `God save the Queen' before they start their tennis match.

Arthur Joura wrote:n short, the purpose driving the activity was an inner need to capture and possess a compelling experience of nature. By extension, if a person was able to do that they could then share their experience with others.

I thoroughly agree to your description of how originally this art form must have started.

Arthur Joura wrote:Nothing of what I have above described, neither the physical requirements of growing a miniaturized plant in a container nor the original motivational purpose for a person to do it, are traits exclusive to the culture of Japan. Yes, what I have described as the likely original motivation for bonsai is my conjecture, but it is reasoned and plausible. The same cannot be said of any idea that the original motivation for bonsai was a desire to express appreciation of Japanese culture.

Well, it clearly was in China anyway where this was started for serious  as you continue to explain. So why do we not look at China for leadership?. It may well be because for almost a century China was not open for us and outright hostile towards it's own heritage. Had China been a positive open world power in the past fifty years we would think we are practicing a Chinese art form.


Arthur Joura wrote:Because it was the Japanese who disseminated bonsai to so much of the rest of the world, their term for the practice is generally used, but there is no requirement whatsoever that those in the rest of the world who learned bonsai from the Japanese must follow their lead in all particulars. The Japanese bonsai professionals would prefer you did that, however. They have expended a great deal of effort in branding bonsai as a Japanese product, just as manufacturers of other kinds of commodities strive to achieve brand name recognition for their products. Even if you do not care to follow the artistic example of the Japanese bonsai professionals, one cannot help but admire the results of their marketing efforts!.


Sure, I totally agree with your assessment of the situation. Some may even see some criticism or even hostility towards the Japanese in your explanation. I do not. This is matter of fact and most other nations would have done it had they been in that position.


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Hello Arthur, Hello Walter

Post  Dave Leppo on Mon Feb 15, 2016 2:07 am

Hello Arthur, Hello Walter
Stand your ground and never falter
There's more than on way to do Bonsai
Japanese only, We do not buy.

Hello Arthur, Hello Walter
misconceptions you can alter
thou you can't change ancient history
what a real tree looks like is no mystery

Hello Arthur, Hello Walter
diverting lemmings from the slaughter
speak your mind and do not have fear
and laugh about it afterwards over a beer.


[sung to "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)" by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch]

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  kevin stoeveken on Mon Feb 15, 2016 12:53 pm

Dave Leppo wrote:Hello Arthur, Hello Walter
Stand your ground and never falter
There's more than on way to do Bonsai
Japanese only, We do not buy.

Hello Arthur, Hello Walter
misconceptions you can alter
thou you can't change ancient history
what a real tree looks like is no mystery

Hello Arthur, Hello Walter
diverting lemmings from the slaughter
speak your mind and do not have fear
and laugh about it afterwards over a beer.


[sung to "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)" by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch]

thanks dave !!!
with some exceptions, i was getting close to stifling a yawn until that... Wink

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An Open Letter To Walter Pall 2/15/16

Post  Arthur Joura on Mon Feb 15, 2016 8:45 pm

Hello Walter,

I was most grateful to see your latest response posted Sunday morning. The conversation on the IBC forum regarding subjects you and I are discussing in this open correspondence had once again become hostile and was spiraling downward into off-topic personal conflict. It was discouraging to see that happen again. On top of that, in the period after I posted my last message to you I felt somewhat disappointed by what I had written, because it pulled me too far in a direction I did not mean to go. I had intended to give just a brief nod in the direction of the whole "Why Bonsai Is Not Inherently Japanese" rabbit hole and the next thing I knew I had jumped head first into it and was hurtling into the abyss. It is not that what I wrote was in any way an inaccurate account of what I think, but rather that by now I should know better than to try to explain my view on that particular topic. The folks who are currently immersed in bonsai and identify it as a Japanese entity, whether they do so consciously or not, do not want to hear about it. And you, of course, do not need to be told of it. I was trying to figure a way to get out of my lamentable situation and back onto the true track when I read your most recent post.

Aside from the fact that your response affirmed much of what I was saying, which is never expected from you but always welcomed, you said something that was a revelation to me. Until you pointed it out, it never occurred to me that the way bonsai established itself and first progressed in the US was not also the way it happened in Europe. I admit it strange that I assumed it should be so, but I did.

In the US the dominating early forces of bonsai appreciation were Yuji Yoshimura and John Naka (and in a lesser way Toshio Saburomaru) and so much of what happened with bonsai here can be traced back to these men. Yoshimura was Japanese born and moved to the US as a middle-aged man, and Naka was American born of Japanese extraction and spent time growing up in Japan. Yoshimura set up shop in New York and spent more than 3 decades traveling all over the US teaching bonsai, while Naka was based in California and also ended up being an influence all across the country. Although each man espoused a vision of bonsai that was larger than any simple expression of Japanese culture, both of them used their Japanese heritage as a foundation for their authority in bonsai. The end result is that in the US the founding fathers of bonsai quite literally have Japanese faces. Even today, long after the original bonsai teachers grew old and passed away, in the US the most respected mark of authenticity in bonsai is some bona fide claim of connection to the Japanese fountainhead. The more direct the connection, the greater the respect. Here in the US the primary association with bonsai remains very strongly the Japanese model, and this is true among the professional class as well as the hobbyist class, and it is perhaps most true among the general public.

Look at the situation with professionals: Currently the best resume piece for any American who wants to make a living in bonsai is to have been apprenticed to a Japanese professional, and there is a clear pecking order among the professionals as to importance, with Masahiko Kimura seeming to be the unquestioned cock-of-the-walk. On one hand this makes complete sense, as Japanese bonsai professionals certainly must be acknowledged as belonging in the front rank of training, experience and commercial credibility, and Kimura is universally recognized for his artistry. There is no doubt that those who undergo the rigors of an apprenticeship in Japan receive bonsai technical training of the highest quality. They also receive, at no extra charge, total indoctrination in the Japanese brand of bonsai. Make no mistake, those who seek out the bonsai apprentice experience in Japan go there already convinced of the superiority of the Japanese product, so they are very willing recipients of the indoctrination. When they return home and set up shop their hard earned technical knowledge is a great asset to their professional aspirations. Of at least equal importance is the fact that the knowledge was hard-earned in Japan and that these former apprentices have been to the very center of the bonsai world, and there they learned secret stuff that is simply unknowable by those who have never been to the holy of holies. Among American bonsai professionals who have not been apprenticed in Japan, many if not most of the older ones have direct lines of connection to either Yoshimura or Naka, or both. Additionally, these people typically have spent periods of time studying in Japan, if not apprenticing, and maintain active contacts with the professional scene there. It seems almost mandatory for any bonsai professional in this country to have some aspect of Japanese bonsai pedigree on which to stake their claim of legitimacy.

Look at the situation with hobbyists: One cannot blame the US bonsai professionals for playing up their Japanese bona fides, because their primary market - the bonsai hobbyists - demands it. Among those people who actively pursue bonsai as a pastime, a great many revel in the exotic nature of bonsai as an expression of the Japanese mystique. It seems to be the very foreign-ness of bonsai when it is "correctly" done that makes it attractive to this audience. It is for this reason we find that many bonsai hobbyists also enjoy creating Japanese gardens in their home landscapes, keeping koi, collecting netsuki and ukiyo-e, and favoring Japanese cuisine. Younger ones may also have a taste for anime. Many middle-aged American bonsai hobbyists will cite "The Karate Kid" movies as the reason they became interested in bonsai. This film series is nothing more or less than a Hollywood fantasy wherein the Japanese mystique is embodied by the character of Mr. Miyagi, a karate expert who dispenses sage advice in the form of cryptic sayings and does bonsai on the side. It is the hobbyists who choose to display their bonsai at shows in a way meant to approximate the effect of a bonsai on display in a traditional Japanese tokonoma. This calls for display tables that are either made in Japan or made by people consciously copying Japanese designs, and the use of scrolls and other accessories that fit the same description. The hobbyists are the ones most inclined to learn and use Japanese terminology to describe things for which they could just as well employ words of their own language. Hobbyists of this stripe want their bonsai information to come from those who are certified as being of the genuine source - Japan. And as most of them will not likely be able to go there to study with one of the big name professionals or be apprentices themselves, they bring Japanese teachers here as guests, or they study with non-Japanese professionals who have been apprenticed in Japan, or at the very least they turn to those who have studied there and learned the secret stuff. I know all this I am saying sounds very judgmental to some people (mostly bonsai hobbyists), but I think it is an accurate description of a strong current that runs through the bonsai community in the US, at least to the extent I have come to know it over the last twenty-something years. Let me also note that many people of this description are friends of mine and some have been strong supporters of my work at the NC Arboretum, so I do not judge them. I merely say out loud the conclusion any objective observer might come to upon surveying the existing paradigm.

Look at the situation with the general public: This I know for a fact - the average person in the US who does not have any active interest in bonsai, who has at best a severely limited idea of what bonsai is, will almost always begin with the idea that bonsai means “little Japanese tree”. Why should they think otherwise? If they happen to go to a public bonsai show they will almost certainly see bonsai presented as a Japanese artifact. If they talk to a bonsai hobbyist they will very likely hear foreign (Japanese) terms being used, or they may well be told about how "the Japanese do this", or "the Japanese say that". If they find their way to a bonsai nursery they will see a selection of Japanese Maples, Japanese Black Pines and Japanese Azaleas offered for sale as bonsai, they will see pots, tools and other materials from Japan featuring packaging with Japanese characters or a label saying "made in Japan", a calendar on the wall showing great old Japanese bonsai, and likely some other more kitschy Japanese or pseudo-Japanese collectible items. The sign on the business may have lettering that uses a font meant to suggest the look of oriental characters, the same font used on signs for Asian restaurants, which, by the way, was the same font used on the flyer to advertise the bonsai show. Just about everywhere you see bonsai here this Japanese identity is reinforced to the public, blatantly or subtly. The good news is that the very tiny percentage of the population that is attracted by the exoticism of things Japanese will find all this appealing. The bad news is that the much greater percentage of the population, those who feel ambivalent about or disinterested in the Japanese mystique, will look at bonsai presented this way, shrug and say "meh". And then walk away.

So tell me please, if you are up for it, how is all this different in Europe?


Arthur Joura
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:33 am

Hey Arthur,

some of us grew up on Marvel / DC and Vampirella [ Erie / Creepy ], knew about Bonsai before Myagi was even filmed, also note
Space 1999 carried Bonsai as well.
I wanted to play the Sitar and Violin, long before Oriental music reached our side.[ Sita Aur Gita and all that ]
Though I am told my aunts and uncles would flee the house before my grandfather could put on the Chinese Opera Laughing

Chinese food was cooked as often as Curry and English mash in our home, since my dad was Chinese / Indian and mum was
English and she also loved to bake cakes - pineapple upside cake - yummy.
Fermented soybean was known as Shee Yow and not Miso.

Martial arts were Gung Fu and Tai Chi not Karate. Carter Wong, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat before Sonny Chiba [ I am going
on his being Japanese.
Grew up going to see Gung Fu movies.

I may be a hobbyist, but my influences are very different and I read about Chinese legends or Chinese classics, as well as
Indian and European literature.
I suspect there are others like me.

Sent with a smile and a laugh.Laughing
Respectfully
Guan Win Low [ aka Khaimraj ]

Note - I also knew growing through Organic [ Rodale and Estonia] long before Japanese stuff.

Khaimraj Seepersad
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My Opinion re AJ's last post here...

Post  Bolero on Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:40 pm

Arthur, under NC Arboretum Staff you are listed as "Bonsai Curator".....

You are certainly entitled to your Opinion's but it seems to me from your most recent Post here that you very much
Resent the Japanese Affiliation's, and Credits Employed and Practiced by and as follows (In your words) by:
The Professionals...
The Hobbyist's...
The General Public...

Is there a General Conclusion or a Point to your last Post or should we just think of it as "Thinking Outloud", either way you have some Serious and Negative opinions re Bonsai practice here in USA....

Maybe your Staff Title should be renamed to "Small Asian Influenced Plant Curator.....

Bolero
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  kevin stoeveken on Tue Feb 16, 2016 1:02 pm

as many already know, arthur, you did begin your learning under the tutelage of yuji yoshimura... and i point this out for those who may not know in order to bolster the substance of your statements as coming not from someone ignorant of how the japanese way may be taught (although if i recall a conversation with you correctly, yuji accepted and encouraged your desires to create work that reflected your regionality)

again though you reinforce my gratitude that i came into this with an initial desire to not do things in an oriental manner... though again, at that time i did not know quite why... that was to be realized later.

(i gotta be careful here as i feel another yawn coming on at my own repetition  Sleep )

but if i had the opportunity to spend a couple years learning from a master, it would not be in the orient (and i say that with all due respect to all the japanese masters)... i would just rather do it with someone like dan robinson, or you, or maybe my first pick would be walter, not only for his style and personality personified, but then we could take breaks from our work to go slide the alps - walter on skis and me on snowboard...

hell, i could even trade walter bonsai teaching for snowboard teaching
(to which walter would reply, "yes, kevin... perhaps when pigs learn to fly ! Razz )



(bolero - you posted while i did... i think you may be misconstruing his statements as resentment... it seems that those that may resent what he is saying take what he is saying as resentment when it is actually couched in enough disclaimers to make it clear that they are just observations)

_________________

AAC Original Milwaukee Wi. Chapter - North America

aka beer city snake
link to ARBOR ARTS COLLECTIVE BLOG

kevin stoeveken
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Video with Arthur...

Post  jgeanangel on Tue Feb 16, 2016 4:41 pm

Hey Friends!  This past weekend my study group had the good fortune to spend the day with Arthur.  As we have done the last several years, we created a video of Arthur doing some work and talking bonsai!


jgeanangel
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Tue Feb 16, 2016 6:08 pm

Thanks John,

special interest in the Bald Cypress, any chance of seeing it in leaf ?
Respectfully.
Khaimraj

Khaimraj Seepersad
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  coh on Tue Feb 16, 2016 7:25 pm

Nice video, thanks for sharing. Good to see the development on that bald cypress, it has some great character in the trunk.

Boy, do I want to turn that hinoki into a classic raft! Think it would look great that way.

Chris

coh
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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