[b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

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[b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Guest on Fri Jan 21, 2011 7:31 pm

The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting

Some views at the way bonsai are displayed, for thoughts.

All bonsai have a "front". Bonsai is to compare with a painting, and relates to the landscape paintings of Japan. Therefore a bonsai have a front where it is best viewed, unlike sculptures which are viewed from more sides.

The front may change after repotting or restyling i.e. but always with the optimal front considered when these tasks are performed. The way bonsai are displayed in a Tokonoma / alcove, is also closely related to the landscape paintings. Therefore the expression and the mood of a bonsai display is always is some extend related to the landscape painting, and time of year. Even the time of the day may be considered. An evening mood with a low sun at a scroll painting can suggest this, or the moon in the night gives the feeling of the cool night e.g.

Even though a bonsai has a front it is possible to view from other angles too, but still have a best position view. This means not that the back of the tree is neglected because it adds depth and may be visible through gaps between branches i.e.

The scroll (if used), and accents plantings, further adds history to the main tree and its suggested location, environment, seasonal approach e.g. What's important when viewing a bonsai display is to perceive the feeling the artist has tried to express. We may individually read the same display in slightly different ways, but the basics will mostly be clearly understood by all.


The references between the classic Japanese landscape drawing or painting is clear. The way a bonsai
display is related to the landscape painting shows in the way the bonsai, accent and scroll is arranged, and how
it reflects the same elements as in the the painting.
The vase may be interpreted as a symbol of the earth or the human relationship to nature, if not just an added feature of more decorative purposes.
Bonsai display set up in a Tokonoma at the meeting room in the house of Daizo Iwasaki, Japan.



Displaying bonsai at exhibitions

On exhibitions a trend in Europe in the beginning of the 2000 (and maybe further back) have been trying to display bonsai viewable all the way around the tree. But this neglects the peace and calm feeling of the form based upon the basic Tokonoma display arrangement.

Some European organisers even have rules that demands scroll paintings not allowed!
This action give the bonsai artist no possibility to decide for them selves how to arrange their display freely. Lacking this possibility of using scrolls and accents to express the living landscape painting from which bonsai origins, risks reducing the bonsai to a plant in a pot instead of a bonsai. The artistic expression is lowered and furthermore the display lacks peace. Not only it is wrong to the art of bonsai, but it also holds back development and understanding of the original bonsai culture I find.

It would be much more encouraging to have the possibility of sharing bonsai displays how they are meant to be for those who wants to display this way, exchanging knowledge and inspiration, rather than holding it back. It is more tricky and demanding to make this kind of display, but not wanting to know and understand the premises of an old art form doesn't develop the art, in contrary it may slow development and aesthetic values.

The way bonsai are intended to be displayed at exhibitions derives from the Tokonoma displaying. Fully, or in a more or less simplified version the exhibition display contains the same elements and references as the Tokonoma display, and the references to the landscape painting.

The landscape painting references

Having the landscape painting in mind when setting up a bonsai display makes it easier to arrange, read and understand.
Referring to the landscape painting, is not only the way trees, grasses, flowers, mountains i.e. can be used as elements through the use of bonsai, accent plantings, Suiseki (viewing stones), scroll painting or accessories, but also the empty space is an important feature. The empty space is that extra element of the untold that is both present in the painting and the bonsai display. The empty space expands the untold part of the story and the imagination fills in the rest and adds the important peacefulness to the picture.

This can all be done in a very modest and simple way, like it can be done with a fuller image with more elements, but always with the lightness and simplicity of the open spaces and landscape paintings elements in mind.


Shohin-bonsai are more focused on the seasonal theme than normal bonsai displays. Therefore flowers, berries i.e. are of importance, adding colour and seasonal approach to the display scenery.
In this example a reference can be found to a non-Japanese water colour painting from Europe with some of the same elements. Although a different style comparisons are clearly seen.


Best regards
Morten Albek

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Peter E. on Fri Jan 21, 2011 8:22 pm

Excellent interpretation Morten.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Rob Kempinski on Fri Jan 21, 2011 8:59 pm

That is a nice analysis- the big pot on the left in the first photo doesn't fit the analysis very well, but I get the point.

I always like to remind that this is only one way to display bonsai. Depending on artistic intent, one may not want to reference a landscape at all. I recall I set up a display at one state-wide show to evoke being in the midst of a comet belt and the ficus over rock was flying through outer space. Set inside a totally blacked out room there was a smoke generator, mood music, and a disco light projector going going. The bonsai was suspended on cables - no stand. I'm serious. I did this about 7 years ago. Most bonsai outsiders immediately got the art - but most bonsaists did not.

There are infinite ways to display bonsai.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  JimLewis on Fri Jan 21, 2011 9:16 pm

I did this about 7 years ago.

I remember it.

Morton, nice analysis of display theory. Most shows on this side of the pond don't give us the kind of room to do something like that -- though our South Carolina friends come very close at times at the Carolina Bonsai Expo.

I would NOT like the bonsai-in-the-round approach.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Chris Cochrane on Fri Jan 21, 2011 9:33 pm

Hi Morten... While I deeply respect Daizo Iwasaki & his huge contributions to bonsai, the illustration you have chosen is not very indicative of masterful, full-size bonsai display. In an alcove display, it should be easy to read the order of viewing objects, but it is not so easy, here. There are three primary objects splitting the distinctions which help guide display arrangement & reading.

Assuming the bonsai is the primary display object, which is the secondary object supporting it? Which is tertiary object and easily read as supporting the secondary object rather than the primary object. At what height are the flower blooms and how many blooms extend higher than the display table or mat of the primary (bonsai) or secondary (earthenware pot) which they support?

In the scenes that I can imagine by this assembly of objects, there is not a clear path & the flowering plant is too tall to be reduced using the objects available for arrangement, unless it is the primary object.

Noting placement of the bonsai pot's feet, it appears oddly turned if there is single front-side intended for display. I agree with you on Japanese bonsai intentionally seen from one (or two-- front & back for cascading bonsai) fronts, but the display illustrated suggests more discretion.

Scene 1 begins:
The secondary object should be equal or further forward than the primary object in the genuine alcove space if depth allows, so I am drawn to choose the flowers as secondary rather than the pot. On the other hand, the secondary object should be further from the scroll horizontally than the primary object-- I want to move the flowers far left while retaining their forward position in depth. I want to remove all but one flower of height greater than the bonsai display table. Remove display table under the pot & lay the pot on its side-- it can complement the single-flower secondary object & would be improved by the thinnest of free-form slabs under it.

Scene #2 begins:
The secondary object should be further from the scroll than the primary object horizontally, so I am drawn to choose the earthenware pot as secondary rather than the flowers. On the other hand, the secondary object should not be deeper in the genuine alcove space than the primary object so move it forward in the display space. Regarding the pot (secondary) being supported by the flowers (tertiary)-- forget about using this flowering arrangement. Consider placing the pot even farther left to take full advantage of empty space as the most important element to encourage imaginative viewing.

Of course, you need to accept the host's taste for appreciation & look for the hosts expression. In this case, a seasoned host shares beautiful objects in arrangement not limited by typical discipline. Should it be surprising?


Last edited by Chris Cochrane on Fri Jan 21, 2011 10:46 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Hans Vleugels on Fri Jan 21, 2011 9:54 pm

Rob Kempinski wrote:I recall I set up a display at one state-wide show to evoke being in the midst of a comet belt and the ficus over rock was flying through outer space. Set inside a totally blacked out room there was a smoke generator, mood music, and a disco light projector going going. The bonsai was suspended on cables - no stand. I'm serious. I did this about 7 years ago. Most bonsai outsiders immediately got the art - but most bonsaists did not.

There are infinite ways to display bonsai.
Complex, but very interesting matter Morten...

Rob, your story sounds a bit like '3rd rock from the sun' to me. Is there any chance we can see pictures or even a video of this set-up?

One thing I learned about a creating set-up is it should not only evoke a sense of landscape, but also a sense of time. Things you probably should ask yourself are: "when is this happening?" and "where is this happening?" So to obtain a correct balance in a set-up, you will need much attention how to place the different elements. But often the placing of objects in a set-up is also very personal. What someone considers as beautiful, could be less interesting for someone else. Important things you should consider are the space you are creating, and the movement or the direction of the objects. What you certainly must avoid is being repeatedly, so you should pay attention not to show too much of the same to the viewer. This can go from two identically looking tables to the same glazes on the pot, and much more...

And before you know it, you realize you don't have enough elements to get a successful set-up. One of my favourite artists ever once said: “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it". Maybe he was right. But all you need is a blank canvas, and the rest is up to you...


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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Peter E. on Fri Jan 21, 2011 10:27 pm

Rob Kempinski wrote:

There are infinite ways to display bonsai.

Rob, with respect, I think Morten is refering to the "classical " display.

We have all tried different ways to display our trees, some more sucessful then others, over the years but it always comes back to the "Best" way.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Rob Kempinski on Fri Jan 21, 2011 10:32 pm

Peter E. wrote:
Rob Kempinski wrote:

There are infinite ways to display bonsai.

Rob, with respect, I think Morten is refering to the "classical " display.

We have all tried different ways to display our trees, some more sucessful then others, over the years but it always comes back to the "Best" way.

I believe he means "Classical Japanese display."

And "best" is always subjective.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Rob Kempinski on Fri Jan 21, 2011 10:58 pm

Hans Vleugels wrote:
Rob Kempinski wrote:I recall I set up a display at one state-wide show to evoke being in the midst of a comet belt and the ficus over rock was flying through outer space. Set inside a totally blacked out room there was a smoke generator, mood music, and a disco light projector going going. The bonsai was suspended on cables - no stand. I'm serious. I did this about 7 years ago. Most bonsai outsiders immediately got the art - but most bonsaists did not.

There are infinite ways to display bonsai.
Complex, but very interesting matter Morten...

Rob, your story sounds a bit like '3rd rock from the sun' to me. Is there any chance we can see pictures or even a video of this set-up?

Sorry, no photos from then. First off, the room was at the end of the exhibit and was very dark (it was outer space after all) making the arrangement tough to photograph. Unfortunately the budget was low, and I used black plastic to black out the room. (I could only imagine how it would have worked if I had Walt Disney's resources and shops to build this display). Second of the few photos I tried to take they were done on an old Sony Mavica camera with diskettes and the diskettes are sitting in my drawer with no way to view the data on them with today's computers. Technology obsolescence. cyclops Remember floppy diskettes?

The overall display though was more complex than usual. The theme of the show was "Bonsai for Tomorrow, On The Space Coast". (We were very close to Kennedy Space Center.) There was only one way to walk through the exhibit. It started with a classical tokonoma, then a free standing display in a simulated Japanese garden, and as one progressed through the display the tree designs became more avant guard, and the displays more contemporary. We even displayed on tree on the floor near the end of the exhibit with some architectural artifacts. The idea was the horizontal progression through the exhibit room was to transport the viewer into the future. There was much more thought about how the layout of the overall room could also influence the theme of the show (somewhat like ballet choreography of the tree displays) and it attempted to be much more theatrical using light, smoke and music. Unfortunately as I mentioned the budget was very limited and we could only do so much, but it was fun.

As I said there are infinite ways to display bonsai. Japanese display is nice but not necessarily best. Don't always limit yourself to one sense and a static view.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Peter E. on Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:06 am

Remember floppy diskettes?
They still alowed you to print from them and copy !!!


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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Guest on Sat Jan 22, 2011 1:11 pm

Peter, Jim, Rob, Chris and Hans. Thank you all for your comments.

Peter. Yes I am concentrating on the view of the classical Japanese bonsai display only, because this is the basic of how bonsai are exhibited and has to be understood first of all. So that’s my focus with this thread. There are so many other issues to explore (as Chris shows in his answer too).
I do think not too many are aware (or care) about how the basics are, and therefore many do experiments displaying bonsai getting a little lost in the issue.
Basic Japanese bonsai display is certainly my cup of tea so to speak, but I recognize fully that others choose differently. I just think one must know from where the basics derive rather than rejecting this fundamental knowledge without wanting to see what’s lost.

Rob. I agree that the big pot is way of and is more showoff than aesthetic. I chose this peace to show the variety of setting up a display, and to show it doesn’t have to be simple or dull just because it is a basic Japanese display.
I think it is clearly a fault if you do not is some more or less

Jim. Exactly this issue I am trying to bring up too, and I think those organizers should know about the basics. In order to set up the exhibitions making it possible for the exhibitors to make their displays as they wish too. Japanese style or not. But stopping us from doing it like we wish, leaving not enough room or possibility to use a scroll or not, is absolutely the wrong way to go.
Same problem in the national Danish organization, were next year’s 30 year anniversary is held in an old beautiful castle. The choice of this environment pays the prize regarding the exhibition possibilities, because it will not be accepted to use scrolls! I prefer more humble surroundings, with the best exhibition possibilities, rather than beautiful buildings that work against the display art.

Chris. Your observations are as always precise and well defined. Thank you. My choice for the exemplifying of the basic Japanese bonsai display was to show the variety and personal choices that is possible. It is my experience some believe you are very bound by the traditional way of display, but personal expressions are very much alive in this example. Iwasakis way and choice very well reflects his garden style too I believe. A bit extravagant and showy, and very free and personal in its style.

Hans. Good observation and true words. Thanks.

At the end, another example of scenery imagined borrowed from part of a painting. All this shall not be taken as a rigid way of transforming or even copy a painting into a bonsai display, but only be seen as a reference an inspiration from the original approach. Hope this is clear and freely used as background knowledge, and my personal approach.

Best regards
Morten Albek




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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Loke Emil on Sat Jan 22, 2011 3:26 pm

Hi Morten

I didn't respond to this debate to begin with... I wouldn't have any clever comments to give... as in proving some one wrong or being a 'besser wisser'. I'm not. But I'm interested in the high arts and I take a deep interest in cultural sensemaking, i.e how different cultures use and interpret the use of symbols.

Iwasagi's play with classical display rules vs. a personal taste is perhaps intentional: Was this tokonoma arranged in honor of your visit? Did you and Iwasagi eventually end up talking about the tokonoma and what feelings or interpretations it could evoke. Did the tokonoma infact guide your conversation towards understanding the cultural differences... does the tokonoma elements infact reflect you and your friends presense at his house? If so, I would say, that Iwasagis tokonoma display was indeed a master piece, i.e showing a great sense of purpose and dialogue.

I had a learning lesson from viewing this particular tokonoma display: I got the feeling, that all elements are positioned intentionally to evoke a sense of the viewer being the primary object - as a part of the display, rather than being limited to a mere viewer ?!

I would like to hear a comment from you Morten on this, please ;-)

best regards
/loke

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Rob Kempinski on Sat Jan 22, 2011 3:37 pm

At the US National Exhibition this past year, I set up a display to conjure up a trip to prehistoric times. The tree used was my "Roaring Mastedon" buttonwood, placed with an almost mame sized Gingko (one of the few plants remaining from the time of the dinosaurs) and a small trilobite fossil as a complement. The only drawback was it was really in a cramped spot in the display room. Photographs weren't allowed but the point is landscapes are one option but not required to display a bonsai. It is the emotional feel. Just as Walter's display at the BMW museum was set to evoke an emotional and abstract response related to German automobile design, bonsai can accomplish many artistic goals.

The Japanese display bonsai but they are not the only people doing it and in fact probably didn't start it. And there is wide expression in display of bonsai in Japan beyond what Chris alludes to. To wit, Acura (a Japanese car company) used one in an automobile commercial. The Japanese Imperial Palace used them as way makers in the halls of their palace. Didacticism rules only if you let it and leads to craft not necessarily art.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  shimsuki on Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:22 pm

Morten,

Thanks for your post! I have little experience displaying bonsai, and I think learning from the classic Japanese tradition is the only way start. However I do agree with Rob that there are infinite ways to view a bonsai. I loved Mr. Pall's BMW exhibition! Such a modern setting, it was awesome. I also like the displays you showed in your original post, and the traditional Japanese way of creating a landscape is another beautiful way to view a bonsai.

Just my thoughts,
Andrew

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Chris Cochrane on Sat Jan 22, 2011 5:42 pm

Hi Morten... The real art in display is not technique but feeling. Exceptions to technique that heighten feeling extends appreciation where it is a uniquely informed choice. If feeling is not heightened when bypassing discipline, a display appears uninformed.

Your most recent illustration is a good example of ambiguity which is so common in Western display but less common in informed, full-sized Japanese bonsai display. If we took a poll to ask which bonsai is the primary object in your illustration, how many would choose the bonsai on the highest stand & how many would choose the bonsai with more dense yet approximately equal mass. For those who choose the object on the highest stand (I'd imagine most), it gets more complicated if we note that the tertiary object should support the secondary object & not be directly associated with the primary object. If we back into reading the display from its least important object, the shitakusa (3rd object) supports the deciduous bonsai (2nd object) which supports the pine bonsai (primary object).

Since none of the objects are placed deeper than another in the display space, the distinction which that might add is lost to assure more clarity of object ordering. It is not wrong, but inelegant... for me.

If the bonsai with its higher stand was placed off-the-board and deeper in the display space, I'd quickly grasp it as prominent. The secondary object & tertiary object would be fine together on the board... & they would be more clearly subordinate if placed at less depth in the display. Harmony is enhanced with unity that drives the eye unfailingly in ordering objects.

Some highly regarded professionals are comfortable with ambiguity in bonsai design & it is prevalent in touted Western exhibitions. You've spoken of ambiguity to heighten shohinkazaridana display on IBC, Morten, and you made a good case for a limited application in disciplined arrangement. For me, a bonsai larger than shohin with ambiguous flow suggest that the artist lacks appreciation or insight of display arrangement.

In most cases, bonsai with ambiguous flow are unacceptable for display. Wayfinding or ordering of objects in display should be clear. Questionably placed objects that impede flow are usually a distraction. Clearly perceived flow among objects with rhythmic pacing in a limited space is elegant. The beauty of empty space is lost without these harmonies. The atmosphere/resonance/tone/feeling of empty space (perceived as boundless resonance in scene or metaphor) distinguishes disciplined arrangement from other display options.

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Guest on Sat Jan 22, 2011 6:57 pm

Sorry, but this will be a long one. My apologies up front.

I know there are lots of wishes to lead bonsai in different directions. But bonsai is essentially about nature and life. Bonsai displays are not about supporting the sales of BMW, being part of TV-commercials, and I do not believe that the bonsai placed at the imperial household are set up as way markers. I presume that they are set up to show their beauty, not as in the Tokonoma display, but as an alternative way of displaying. Like in the garden of Daizo Iwasaki, or as we do in Europe e.g., were bonsai are placed on decorative benches and tripods for daily care and viewing at once.

Bonsai are in reality not truly bonsai when not fully developed. It is not truly bonsai before it is shown in the display as part of the landscape painting interpreted as bonsai display. That may sound provocative, if you dislike this element of bonsai and find it more limiting than expressive and powerful.

The trend, if I may challenge, showing bonsai in all kinds of ways not related to nature/life, is misleading and not in benefit of the art. Not that I cling to the past or traditions. Because just understanding, appreciate and explore the bonsai display as an out spring of the landscape painting is a lifetime achievement.

Question!? When bonsai are exhibited in a hall with BMW, used in a commercial e.g., who have the benefit and what aims are there to do so?
My opinion is that the BMW sees a clear advantage showing the old age trees in contrast to their modern high technology cars. They are not interested in art itself; whatever it is bonsai, paintings or sculptures they exhibit with their cars. Set up against aged bonsai a modern car looks even more dramatic modern. Furthermore the bonsai adds a green image to the showroom.
If paintings or sculptures are shown in the display hall of modern cars, also a design issue is in place, showing that the cars design is estimated as art. Relating cars to art is not new, and in commercials everything is tried to convince the buyers that the product is more than it actually is, using art e.g. as a katalysator for the product image.
Bottom line, commercial interests does not make bonsai something it isn’t.

I will go on to Robs views. Rob, I do not think that a display relating to rockets, or because Japanese company’s sees an advantage in using bonsai in commercials, has anything to do with the bonsai display or the art. Bonsai is just used in another frame, which has nothing to do with the art itself.
Bonsai is truly about nature, and because we maybe do not understand it, or practice it otherwise (because of ignorance or lack of knowledge) does not change the way it was meant to be.

I do think bonsai can have a variety of displays, but we do need to appreciate the art form as it is, and understand that not any way of displaying can be seen as a positive exploration. If we have no self criticism or respect for the heritage, we do not learn nor enriches our life. Then we just flow with the easy way and the commercial interests without asking why?

Lokes questions make me happy. We did not have the opportunity to talk about with Iwasaki about the actual displays. But they were set up to appreciate our visit.
It is a tradition to do so when guests arrive, and the display may look very different depending on the guests and the time of year e.g.
If you got that described feeling from the display I just think you received an impression of importance. It is not important if it is right or wrong (only the creator knows what the intentions was), but evoking a feeling (or even relationship between nature and human) is absolute a central part of displaying bonsai.

Andrew, I think I answered you mostly in the above regarding the BMW display. Just wants to add, that the display has nothing much to do with a way of displaying bonsai, because the intentions was more to display the cars from an organizer’s point of view. It of course is an opportunity to exhibit bonsai, but is it the right environment and set up?

Bottom line is that my aim is not a one way crusade of how bonsai should or should not be exhibited, but a hint to recognize what the bonsai display is about. And finally to make aware that not every kind of display is fore filling the purpose just because it is new and more or less refreshing.

Best regards
Morten Albek

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Guest on Sat Jan 22, 2011 7:06 pm

Chris

Thanks for your in depth analysis. It can be a complex matter, not easy to explain in headlines or even in pictures. The case is that there are different ways of approaching even the classic display issue. In Japan you will find a decent number of bonsai enthusiasts that do not know even the most common directions properly. So one can´t assume that everything exhibited is right when viewing.
And in the end, as Chris states, the important point of any display is the feeling of it. The base techniques must be fore filled, but the display have to express a feeling to evoke emotions and touch the viewer, which makes the techniques used "invisible" and even breaks the "rules"
(guidelines I prefer).

Best regards
Morten

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

Post  Loke Emil on Sun Jan 23, 2011 12:32 am

Hi Morten

thanks for commenting ;-)

...best regards
/loke

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Re: [b]The-front-of-the-bonsai-and-the-three-dimensional-painting[/b]

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