Viewing distance in Bonsai.

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Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Ravi Kiran on Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:57 pm

One of the important aspects that is not adequately addressed to in Bonsai is the viewing distance. All the efforts that are put into creating a tree over the years finally culminate in a good Bonsai. While I am not getting into the aspect of what makes a good Bonsai but presuming that such a goal is achieved, brings us to the next step.

How do we best appreciate the Bonsai? It is important to note that I am using the word “appreciate” and not “critique” very consciously. For me the objective of bonsai creation, all the years of blood sweat and tears is to create an object of art which is best enjoyed by appreciation and not being pulled down in the name of critique. Getting back to the point of how do we best appreciate bonsai. While there are guidelines a plenty in bonsai creation, I have often wondered what would be the best distance to appreciate a bonsai. The other aspect of Bonsai appreciation, namely Bonsai display has been more than adequately addressed by many over the years though.

After much thought I feel that the best distance for appreciating a bonsai should be far enough so that the viewer get a complete view of the tree. It should not be too far so that the viewer misses out on the finer aspects of the tree but also not too close so that one gets a closer view of a few parts of the tree but not the complete view of the tree. As is understandable, the viewing distance depends on the size of the tree. So to arrive at a general guideline (I hate the word rule…) the viewing distance should be a function of the height of the tree. Like we have a girth of the trunk to the height ratio, I feel that a ratio of the height of the tree to the viewing distance should ideally be 1:4. So for a tree that is a foot tall a safe viewing distance should be 4 feet.

Standing at such a distance also makes the illusion of a tree in its natural habitat more realistic. The dangers or rather disadvantages of viewing a tree too close are often unnecessary nitpicking in the name of adherence to rules. While I do believe in rules and their importance in creating a bonsai, what I am against is missing out on the bigger picture in the name of rules. Pointing out an inverse tapered trunk or an eye poking branch that blends rather well into the overall image of the tree are another such cases. Such instances of myopic rule book criticism can be avoided by viewing a tree in its completeness at a correct distance. I have also been bemused at knowledgeable enthusiasts at times examining the flakiness of branches….which would not be visible when one views the tree from a 1:4 distance.

Thoughts (agreements and disagreements) are most welcome….

Ravi

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:12 pm

Interesting and you are correct, this is an important consideration. The only problem is space. Many indoor bonsai displays/shows would have a problem giving a two foot tree eight feet of space for viewing.

This fall ,in China, I saw a lot of trees. Many were not displayed to this best advantage. Other than the distance issue is the height issue. Some traditions say the the point where the tree meets the soil would fall at eye level. A few of my trees are at 43 inches and I do think this helps the tree make a better impression.

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Guest on Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:37 pm

That is a good question Ravi. Bonsai I think once exhibited is not just about the tree but also more on showmanship, encompassing everything on the display table, from the stand to pot, ground cover and up to the tiniest twig. If your theory on the proper distance is taken into account during shows, by which most audience are naive on how to properly view a tree, the distance of the display should be taken into account to view the depth of the tree better for all to appreciate. therefore not just one size (depth) of table were to be used. Some sort of line should also be put in placed in front of a displayed tree to guide people on the best angle and distance to view the artwork perfectly.

Have you tried watching a movie from the left/right most side of the screen or seat in the front most row?

regards,
jun Smile

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  cosmos on Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:14 pm

I think that appreciation is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that it is a very subjective thing. So the distiance to appreciate a bonsai is logically also subjective, meaning that it is the distance at which the beholder appreciates the bonsai. It could vary for the same tree, for maybe the beholder needs to get closer to see and appreciate the intricate network of the ramifications, the inside of an uro or the details of carved deadwood. It could be relatively far away in order to see the wholeness of the tree amalgamated with its pot; the wholeness detering the keen eyes from possible defects of the tree (that have been cautiuosly and artistically hidden).

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Guest on Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:24 pm

cosmos wrote:I think that appreciation is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that it is a very subjective thing. So the distiance to appreciate a bonsai is logically also subjective, meaning that it is the distance at which the beholder appreciates the bonsai. It could vary for the same tree, for maybe the beholder needs to get closer to see and appreciate the intricate network of the ramifications, the inside of an uro or the details of carved deadwood. It could be relatively far away in order to see the wholeness of the tree amalgamated with its pot; the wholeness detering the keen eyes from possible defects of the tree (that have been cautiuosly and artistically hidden).

Cosmos

yes Cosmos. that is for the advanced eyes which more or less are accustomed to bonsai proper details. but there should some take off point by which a person specially new and virgin eyes (on bonsai) starts his appreciation and most likely like any art form the human eye will initially check out the outline then the color and the overall form before slowly gets to the details. And without that starting point probably an initial guide to the viewer defects and criticisms will come first before the appreciation of any piece.

regards,
jun Smile

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Guest on Thu Jan 06, 2011 5:14 pm

As mentioned before, most bonsai exhibitions are tight on space and the majority of people who attend exhibition have a more "advanced eye". Even at home there are more than a few of us that have limited space and or too many trees, and therefore cannot display trees how we would like them to be viewed.
What is it you suggest for the beginner without the advanced eye. A mark on the floor at the "right" distance like the oche and a dart board?

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  jgeanangel on Thu Jan 06, 2011 7:56 pm

In October of 2009, my study group set up a display that purposefully kept the viewers about 6' away from the trees. 3 reasonably large and well lit trees were displayed at different heights in a 12' wide space. The people who were interested in just looking at the trees, stated that they were too far away to be able to take in the details and they would appreciate being able to get closer. While, the folks that looked at the display as a whole never once commented about the distance and we observed that many people chose to step further back to take it all. So, I guess the answer to your question, as others have suggested, lies in the purpose of the viewing.
John

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  JimLewis on Thu Jan 06, 2011 8:04 pm

Care to explain your "avatar," John? It hurts my eyes.

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  jgeanangel on Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:25 pm

JimLewis wrote:Care to explain your "avatar," John? It hurts my eyes.

nah...you are too old Jim:) and its for young people with smartphones...they know what to do:)

if you really must know look here.

John

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Guest on Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:40 pm

will baddeley wrote:As mentioned before, most bonsai exhibitions are tight on space and the majority of people who attend exhibition have a more "advanced eye". Even at home there are more than a few of us that have limited space and or too many trees, and therefore cannot display trees how we would like them to be viewed.
What is it you suggest for the beginner without the advanced eye. A mark on the floor at the "right" distance like the oche and a dart board?

Yes Will something like that, otherwise what's the point of creating a front for a bonsai. and what harm would it bring in helping new comers in appreciating bonsai? trees at home or in a garden is like a canvass on a easel in a studio and way lot different from a painting in a museum. it is the responsibility of the exhibitor or organizer to provide ample space to maximize the efficiency of any display, otherwise don't over exhibit at all.

regards,
jun Smile

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Guest on Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:57 pm

jun wrote:
will baddeley wrote:As mentioned before, most bonsai exhibitions are tight on space and the majority of people who attend exhibition have a more "advanced eye". Even at home there are more than a few of us that have limited space and or too many trees, and therefore cannot display trees how we would like them to be viewed.
What is it you suggest for the beginner without the advanced eye. A mark on the floor at the "right" distance like the oche and a dart board?

Yes Will something like that, otherwise what's the point of creating a front for a bonsai. and what harm would it bring in helping new comers in appreciating bonsai? trees at home or in a garden is like a canvass on a easel in a studio and way lot different from a painting in a museum. it is the responsibility of the exhibitor or organizer to provide ample space to maximize the efficiency of any display, otherwise don't over exhibit at all.

regards,
jun Smile

Nice idea Jun but as most exhibitions are run by amateurs, relying on a level of sponsorship or self made funds and volunteers, a large space can be extremely expensive.

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Guest on Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:22 pm

I know that for a fact Will. and it is one of the sad realities in this world of bonsai, (I'm just playing the devil's advocate)...We (most of us) can hardly support the hobby, what more with the exhibit. And we always need cold cash to maintain a single tree, unlike sculptures or painting or music...once done it's done except for a once in a century restoration work.

regards,
jun
Crying or Very sad

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:02 am

Generally Ravi,

I use 3 times the greatest length, but it does help for shapes only, if you get back further. This is what I find helps the most with training, and exhibiting.

You normally have to teach the viewer about this, and frankly on our side, most folk are happy to be thus educated.

You also have to explain the difference between full canopy, and the pads [ used to suggest distance, as often seen in Chinese Ink paintings.] However, these are often the most enjoyable as I often get folk coming back to another exhibition and excitedly explaining how they look at our mountain ranges and islets with different eyes. They really begin to take in nature.

By the way, thank God for getting back to view your subject, on our side, wire marks on especially Ficus trees are abundant, and I find wire marks very ugggggggllllyyyyyy.

Jim, fear not, I too had not a clue, but hey, it is not always possible to be aware of everything under the sun, especially with throw away technology.[ hah the glove has been thrown down - ha ha ha]

Space problems with exhibiting are normally solved when building the display. Set it up, walk out, look at the world for 10 minutes, walk back in, see what sticks out or hurts the eye.
Stay Well.
Khaimraj

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  JimLewis on Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:35 am

if you really must know look here.

Oh.



And you are right.

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  John Quinn on Fri Jan 07, 2011 1:17 am

jgeanangel wrote:
JimLewis wrote:Care to explain your "avatar," John? It hurts my eyes.

nah...you are too old Jim:) and its for young people with smartphones...they know what to do:)

if you really must know look here.

John

Sorry, John. My Tag Reader would not scan it, even after printing the image.

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Viewing Distance

Post  bonsaisr on Fri Jan 07, 2011 3:17 am

You are only considering people with normal vision. Some of us may appreciate the general shape, but then have to get up close to really see the bonsai.
Iris

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Viewing Distance

Post  Guest on Fri Jan 07, 2011 3:24 am

I'm really not getting this distance thing at all. I have visited many art galleries and have studied paintings both from a distance and incredibly closely and at no time was I told that I was viewing from the wrong place.

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Ravi Kiran on Fri Jan 07, 2011 4:56 am

Billy,
Thanks for your reply. I do understand the practical realities of exhibitions and the like. Having said that one can atleast attempt to solve the issue by planning displays in a better layout. I mean giving the larger tree more viewing distance and likewise.

Jun,
Thanks for your replis. You coming from an architectural background I am sure understand the importance of getting the whole picture. And yes it would certainly help to have appreciation first and then if required critique.

Will,
Good to read your comments. The oche and the dart board is an interesting thought. Having said that I do not suggest that one restrict the distance to the 1:4 but also allow the viewer to take a closer look should he or she so desire. It is the reverse that is the problem. That is, not having sufficient distance for the viewer to get the complete picture.

John,
thanks for sharing the interesting episode of Oct 2009. Proves my point.

Jim
Glad to know that thanks to this post you now know about QR Code. I would have been happier to know your thoughts about the discussion point though....

Iris,
Thanks for your comment. As I have stated above in my reply to Will, there is no harm in getting an upclose view of the tree but it is important to have the complete view as well.


A few more thoughts....

By suggesting a sufficient distance to appreciate bonsai I am not in the least suggesting, hiding faults which are other wise visible. As already mentioned above a closeup view is also essential. I am also a strong proponent of 3D views which goes beyond convention and gives a much better view and understanding of a tree.


Regards
Ravi

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Distance

Post  sunip on Fri Jan 07, 2011 7:22 am

An old trick artist use to get the ideal distance to an object to get a good overview of the object is as follows:
You go stand at a certain distance from the object and stretch your arm out in front of you,
then you spread your hand so that your thump is panting down and your index finger panting up.
Closing one eye, the desired object should fit between your thump and index finger,
then you stand at the ideal distance to overview the whole subject.
It's a visual, a perspective trick such as the popular photo's of the leaning tower of Pisa in which the tourist seem to hold the tower.
When there is not enough space us a mirror or more extreme binoculars the wrong way.


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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  fiona on Fri Jan 07, 2011 8:14 am

Being a bit naughty here and picking up on Ravi's mention of 3D views I'm going to throw into the mix the simple question:

If, as many do, we make the statement about our trees being 3 dimensional art more akin to sculpture, then why do
we continue to display them as if they were a 2 dimensional painting?


I agree that displaying trees should allow for viewing from several distances. I'd also like to be able to get round a tree, precisely so I can see the whole item. I accept that trees look better against some form of backdrop, but is the current practice of table-top mounting always the best way?

And, although it is nice to gave got this far through the post without it being uttered, I suspect that before long someone will say in response to that question, those words "in Japan..." and we'll go down the whole road of exhibitions being as they are because that's how they're done in Japan. Maybe, just maybe, that all started with some poor show manager being stuck for space and setting up an exhibition in the manner which we now assume to be "traditional" and therefore how it "must" be done.


Just a passing thought. I actually had more to say but thought formulation is not forthcoming right now. It's 8am, and I'm not a morning person.

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Fri Jan 07, 2011 9:15 am

Fiona,

there is a difference in saying, Bonsai is sculpture, and actually applying the idea of sculpture to a tree.

Plus, you might have to display such a sculpture in a room will a continuous circular blank mono coloured wall. Could be done, but as far as I remember it most sculpture has a good side, best side and weak side ...., the grower might not want too many seeing the weak sides [ as a question ?]

Hmm, I do wonder how many professionally trained sculptors have bonsai as a hobby, or are even plant interested ?
Only questions.
Khaimraj

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Ravi Kiran on Fri Jan 07, 2011 9:32 am

Fiona and Khaimraj - thanks for your responses Smile

Good Morning Fiona sunny(couldn't resist that one) Despite not being a morning person if you could manage to say what you did, then it is certainly something that you firmly and deeply believe in. Glad to hear you say what you did.

Yes as Khaimraj rightly puts it and as you have also said, Bonsai is indeed a 3 dimensional art form. At the risk of digressing slightly from the main topic and focusing on what you have said, bonsai are indeed displayed the way they are for want of space. This could also be as you have correctly pointed out, for traditional reasons Japanese or otherwise.

One of the ways this living art form of Bonsai can certainly evolve is in the way it is displayed. 3D displays are the way to go into future. There are certainly some first steps being taken tentatively in this direction. Walter Pall's exhibition at BMW a few months ago was certainly in this format. For those who do not know, Walter had around 7-8 trees displayed on acrylic stands about 4-5 feet high and the whole display cordoned off in a see through enclosure. These trees were replaced with newer ones every fortnight or so and this went on 7-8 times. That way the trees could be viewed from all directions with no one to guide the visitors as to which was the best viewing angle or as we bonsai folks call the best front.

Bonsai can also be displayed on individual pedestals or stands like in a art museum featuring sculptures so that visitors could go around the tree and view it from all angles. Over time I hope to see this become a reality.

Regards
Ravi

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Walter Pall on Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:11 am

A couple of glimpses into the exhibit at BMW headquarters.





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Fancy That!

Post  Tony on Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:22 am

I always wondered what BMW stands for?

Bonsai Master Walter. Cool

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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:25 am

As the fly in the ointment Mr.Pall.

[1] Would it not have been better if the trees had been shielded from all the other exhibits. They do seem to function as visual distractions to each other.

[2] The first stages of ---- Bonsai are the playthings of rich men - as the board of BMW begins to develop an interest in Bonsai, as is already present in Japan.

We already have [2] developing on our side, along with the yachts and light airplanes.
Sigh, when the sincerity goes out of the window.
Bzzzzzzzzzzz
Khaimraj

* As usual excellent work Mr. Pall.!!!


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Re: Viewing distance in Bonsai.

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