When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

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When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Todd Ellis on Tue Sep 07, 2010 3:39 am

I am hoping to generate lots of discussion about this... Please share your thoughts and opinions. Smile

The best answer that I have ever heard when asked, 'When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Pensai"?' is "you know it when you see it."
However, I keep coming back to the Chinese and Japanese characters which are "tree in a pot". If this is so, I interpret this to mean that anything in a pot is techincally bonsai; the beautiful yamadori trees I see from Europe, North and South America, Down Under, Africa and elsewhere, and the classical trees we have seen in Asia, all fit the "you know it when you see it". But, the mallsai trees like Ginseng Ficus, trees glued into pots with decorated gravel and elmers glue, the "S" shaped trees produced by the tens of thousands - aren't these technically bonsai?
Salut, Todd


Last edited by Todd Ellis on Tue Sep 07, 2010 4:13 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : forgot Africa!)

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  MC24 on Tue Sep 07, 2010 6:51 am

Personally when i look at penjing or pensai, they often depict a landscape or scene.

As a generalization, they tend to not follow general bonsai guidelines such as line of sight, negative space, rule of thirds or the golden ratio, and such... other noticeable things would be how they pot their trees. The different shaped, glazed, drawn, and less 'perfect' pots in penjing. The substrate varies, many don't mind using 'cloggy' organic soil. I rarely see fertilizer applied to their trees as well. I see less wiring, severe bending, and carving on penjing.

The thought that i have to call mallsai bonsai, gives me the shudders. But, if you are going on technicality, then i guess they are bonsai, just really bad bonsai. As a Bonsai Artist had a few years under their belt, they begin to understand that mallsai shouldn't really be considered bonsai even though regular joe shmoe would gladly buy a 's' curved ficus 'bonsai' for a friends birthday. (thinking it was a bonsai, not know good or bad... just a bonsai in its self)

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Kalogero on Tue Sep 07, 2010 9:26 am

Hi,
My first idea would be to say that a tree is never really a bonsai 'cause it is in perpetual evolution. But, if I let my few neurons thinking for me, I would say that we are in front of a bonsai from the moment when this one is well installed in its final pot, when his form is clearly established and installed in time, when the famous wabi-sabi is installed on the whole tree which finally makes us think of a worthy tree we can see in nature. But this is my opinion, and I consider that we work with the living and from this state, a tree is never finished !
Kind regards
Matthieu

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  JimLewis on Tue Sep 07, 2010 1:54 pm

It is totally up to the owner of the tree and how he or she sees it.

A neophyte bonsaiest will have a "bonsai" long before many of the rest of us might see it in that plant. To him, or her, it IS bonsai, and who on earth are we to dispute it.

To insist that only a "masterpiece" is bonsai is elitist and arrogant. I'm convinced I have a few "bonsai" but none would classify as masterpieces.

So there.


Last edited by JimLewis on Tue Sep 07, 2010 6:18 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Kalogero on Tue Sep 07, 2010 2:39 pm

Totally agree with Jim.
But if we have to give a precise definition of a bonsai, except "it's a tree in a pot", what could we say ?

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  cbobgo on Tue Sep 07, 2010 5:20 pm

I think it needs to be a little more precise than just "a tree in a pot." Lots of folks have trees in pots on their patios or in their houses that would not be considered bonsai by any stretch of the imagination. I have several dwarf citrus trees in large pots on my patio, and a plum tree on my balcony. They are fairly full sized trees, grown for their fruit. So they are definitely not bonsai, but they are trees in pots.

For me it comes down to the purpose or the idea behind the tree in the pot. WHY is there a tree in a pot? If it is to depict a miniature version of a tree in nature, or the stylized image of a tree, then for me it is bonsai - whether it's Chinese, Italian, Cuban or whatever.

- bob

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  JimLewis on Tue Sep 07, 2010 6:20 pm

But if we have to give a precise definition of a bonsai, except "it's a tree in a pot", what could we say ?

And, frankly, why?

This kind of discussion smacks of the long (and boring) discussions of "is bonsai art."

It is a bonsai when YOU (the owner) say it is, whether or not someone else thinks it is.

(And, it is art if you think it is an art.)

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Jay Gaydosh on Tue Sep 07, 2010 8:03 pm

I have several dozen potential bonsai and none of them are trees... Chrysanthemums, Geraniums mostly, some are technically shrubs. Plus, we have members growing herbs, and other, technically, non-trees as bonsai. We all have pretty much the same goal... make the plant look like a little tree (or a big tree) and make the pot compliment the plant.

We've seen bonsai taller than me, big enough to take too many hands to move (so it isn't ever moved), all the way down to the shohin and mame bonsai where it takes finger tips to hold them.

Funny thing, there is always someone willing to state "what you've got isn't a bonsai." We have had discussions that include opinions like "I don't really think a tree would be THAT distorted, or "your tree looks too much like a tree, I prefer mine more distorted." Since we all know you can't please all of the people all of the time, I basically go with the philosophy of "if it pleases me, I like it."

We have members who don't do much with tropical trees, some that don't do "indoor" bonsai and we have others who do nothing but tropical trees and some who are pretty much confined to their living spaces who concentrate on "indoor" bonsai.

If we start eliminating everything that fails to meet someones definition of bonsai... we could really thin out the forest! Sad

Jay

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  fiona on Tue Sep 07, 2010 9:14 pm

Jay Gaydosh wrote: If we start eliminating everything that fails to meet someones definition of bonsai... we could really thin out the forest!
And if we're taking that old "tree in a pot" chestnut, can we say a forest planting is a bonsai either?

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Jay Gaydosh on Tue Sep 07, 2010 10:37 pm

fiona wrote: And if we're taking that old "tree in a pot" chestnut, can we say a forest planting is a bonsai either?

I dunno, it is "tree is a pot", not trees in a pot. Now we have to come up with a new name for trees in a pot.

What if we root the same tree in two or more pots? Tree in pots?

Will these modifications require the creation of new forums? Can we make a forum with multiple mini-fori?


The New & Improved Bonsai Forum

Please select the appropriate Sub-Forum:

Bonsai according to Jay
Bonsai according to Fiona
Yadda Yadda & Yadda
Bonsais in a pot
Bonsai in multiple pots
Almost bonsai
Way past bonsai

This could get a tad confusing!

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Kalogero on Tue Sep 07, 2010 11:04 pm

JimLewis wrote:
But if we have to give a precise definition of a bonsai, except "it's a tree in a pot", what could we say ?

And, frankly, why?

This kind of discussion smacks of the long (and boring) discussions of "is bonsai art."

It is a bonsai when YOU (the owner) say it is, whether or not someone else thinks it is.

(And, it is art if you think it is an art.)

I don't know if bonsai is an art or not and to be honest, I really don't want to consider myself as an artist, it's to....elitist for me (sorry for the word, I cannot find another one for the moment). And I spoke about a definition because of the title of the thread. Personnaly, I don't mind if a enthusiast call a chinese elm or a ficus "S" styled a bonsai. Everyone takes his own pleasure where he wants.
No hard feelings Jim, I just wanted things to be clear !
Best regards
Matthieu

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Jay Gaydosh on Tue Sep 07, 2010 11:22 pm

JimLewis wrote:...A neophyte bonsaiest will have a "bonsai" long before many of the rest of us might see it in that plant. To him, or her, it IS bonsai, and who on earth are we to dispute it...

I'm not sure if the correct addage is "Ignorance is bliss" or "Innocence is bliss", either way, sometimes I wonder if we all weren't a little happier in our bonsai lives, when our first bonsai was a thing of beauty, and Mr. Myogi's statement "Picture perfect tree" was all it took. Now we sit around actually trying to make that perfect tree and beating ourselves up if we can't get there.

Reminds me of the movie "The Last Samurai", in the movie the Ken Watanabe (as Katsumoto) spent his entire life trying to find the perfect cherry blossom, only to discover in his death scene, that "they are all perfect!"

Sometimes, I believe we just think too much!

Jay

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  JimLewis on Wed Sep 08, 2010 12:11 am

Now we sit around actually trying to make that perfect tree and beating ourselves up if we can't get there.

Not me!

Sometimes, I believe we just think too much!

Oh . . . if only we DID! But I'm afraid that -- at least over here -- "thinking" seems to have gone out of favor over the last several years. Oh! You meant thinking about bonsai. Maybe so.

On that cheerful note . . . see you all in a couple of weeks.

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  63pmp on Wed Sep 08, 2010 12:56 am

Very complicated question. Personally I'm bored with defining a bonsai as a tree in a pot. Bonsai is Japanese , Penjing is Chinese. They are different. Think of it as a Rolls Royce versus a Cadillac. There both cars, but there both very different. What is worse is when people blend the two styles, and think that's clever.

Paul

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Todd Ellis on Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:17 am

I'm so glad to read the responses. Some people have very specific boundaries when it comes to bonsai or pensai. I have to say that there appear to be clear distinctions in styling. But, I believe that blending styles works if the tree still looks like a tree. I base this on the simple "assumption" that a truley "Japanese Styled Tree (in order to be truley Japanese...) has to be made by a person of Japanese origin... of course this is rubbish, but hopefully you see my point. I use to hang around some "esteemed" bonsai growers who would chide any tree that wreaked of "mallsai" or poor taper, or too young material, we literally laughed about these souls and I know we hurt some feelings. This is terribly wrong and I (hopefully) changed my ways. Whenever I hear someone say "...calling THAT a bonsai..." it wreaks of snobbery. Many people try to make an honest living growing material that the masses can afford. Many people are very happy to have something "inexpensive" that they can nurture.
I still have a long way to go regarding the quality of my trees. To me, they are in training and not show worthy yet. To others, they see their potential. To some, they look incredible and they mistakenly call me master. I appreciate the compliments, but I have studied under some masters; who in turn would say they are not masters.... I'm sure many of you have experienced this.
Anyway, I love my trees, I love this gift we call bonsai, AND, I love this forum! Thanks for sharing y'all!
Salut, Todd cheers

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Jay Gaydosh on Wed Sep 08, 2010 3:03 pm

Another point of immense "bonsai humor" to me are the criticisms by some, like the ones listed above about what makes a bad bonsai, (ie: branches on exact opposites of each other, inverse taper, etc.) all because they don't look "natural". Then you go out on a cruise through "nature" and find all of those undesireable traits growing in "natural" trees.

So... if you want to experiment to make an "unnatural" tree that looks like it could be a tree in the wild... WHY NOT?

Jay

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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:30 am

It's a bonsai when the majority looking at it without having to think, experiences it.

Won't be all, because a few may not have the experience needed to feel it.

It is also temporary, as the tree continues on with it's own cycle.

Is that good enough ?
Khaimraj




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Re: When does the tree become "Bonsai" or "Penjing"?

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