Standards for Bonsai

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Standards for Bonsai

Post  JimLewis on Sat May 02, 2009 11:20 pm

IBCer John Tapner of the Bonsai Study Group in Lindfield, Australia kindly sends me his group's newsletter every quarter. I received their Winter issue today. The lead article is "judging Standards for Bonsai As Approved by Bonsai Federation of Australia, Inc."

It describes in brief detail the necessary criteria a bonsai must meet in Formal Upright, Informal Upright, Slanting, Semi-Cascade, and Cascade styles, as well as Windswept, Rock plantings, Literati, Group plantngs and Natives. I also mentions Miniature Bonsai as incorporating all of the earlier styles, but with "more flexible" rules.

The article made me wonder: Do any other Countries, Areas, or Geographical regions have a similar set of Standards? I know that in North America, the ABS has a little booklet "Bonsai Manual for Appreciating, Judging, and buying Bonsai" but I don't think it has the same cachet as the Australian "Standards."

Should they?

And can someone from Australia comment on how (or if) these standards are enforced?

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  greerhw on Sun May 03, 2009 1:38 am

To me buying bonsai is a personal thing, I only buy trees I like. I think a lot of people like to memorize the names of the styles of trees to impress other people with their knowledge of bonsai. If I'm at a bonsai show and the owner is standing next to his tree and it's a nice tree, I tell him or her it's a nice tree, not it's a nice informal upright or cascade,etc. I don't have anything to prove knowing all the styles of bonsai, but I do appreciate a nice tree.

Harry

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Bonsai Standards

Post  bonsaisr on Thu May 07, 2009 2:56 am

I must get a copy of the ABS book. When you go to a major show or a sophisticated club, pretty much everybody is on the same page, & at least they know what the standards are. Out here in the boondocks, it is very difficult to persuade people to follow at least some semblance of bonsai standards. I am not a recognized authority, just another club member. Other members can say, "That's just your opinion." It helps to have an objective standard to point to.
Iris

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Guest on Thu May 07, 2009 6:35 am

Jim, glad you enjoyed the article, but I must emphasize that these standards would probably be used at a top show. Our Group is holding our annual show in a couple of weeks (look forward to seeing you there?) and I can almost guarantee that there would not be more that one or two trees that would conform to the "standards" as set. Generally club members will style a tree to please their own criteria, and I have no argument with this. I think it would be a dull old world if we all stuck to the "standards". A good book on bonsai styles is "Bonsai Styles of the World" by Charles S Ceronio, I believe he is a South African author.

Regards

John T Rolling Eyes

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  JimLewis on Thu May 07, 2009 12:59 pm

Well, John, I was wondering if any other country had a set of "standards" their trees were supposed to be judged by, and was hoping to get more comments than I've gotten.

I think the ABS book (assuming it is still available) was never "adopted" by any organization in North America. Personally, I'm not in favor of "official standards" and if they exist, they certainly give a "pfffttt" to everyone who is concerned over bonsai's status as an "art." "Standards" and art are incompatible concepts.

Are the Australian standards "official?" Are they adhered to at some national show, or shows?

I certainly wish I could visit your show. I'm afrain, however, that long journeys like that are not in my future any longer.

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Will Heath on Thu May 07, 2009 1:37 pm

Thanks for the copy John, I always enjoy them. I liked the standards and I think they are a good base and a good start on standardizing judging, keeping in mind that many bonsai will cross standards. More importantly, I think a standardized judging/scoring system is needed. Attila Soos had one idea http://artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/judging.php that seems fair, and I have seen a couple others here and there.

Anyone know of another?

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  petit-arbre on Thu May 07, 2009 2:20 pm

In France the French Federation of Bonsai have write and sell a booklet for Appreciating and Judging Bonsai.
This guide is available in all Bonsai Club (members of Federation, of course)

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  JimLewis on Thu May 07, 2009 3:45 pm

Standards for bonsai would be like having standards for painters, or sculptors, or artists in general -- self defeating.

But, this is probably too closely akin to discussions of "rules."

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Will Heath on Thu May 07, 2009 5:37 pm

JimLewis wrote:Standards for bonsai would be like having standards for painters, or sculptors, or artists in general -- self defeating.

But, this is probably too closely akin to discussions of "rules."

Not really, as I see it we are discussing the end result and the classification and judging of such, not the creation, which is what "rules" relates to.


Will

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Alan Walker on Thu May 07, 2009 6:00 pm

The best articulation of bonsai design principles is David DeGroot's Basic Bonsai Design. While it is not intended as a judging manual per se, it is the best reference for that purpose.
It is also a very inexpensive little tome which can be ordered through the ABS Book Service at http://www.absbonsai.org/books/booklist.html

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  darky on Fri May 08, 2009 1:04 am

Having entered Judged competition and none judged!! ( did not know it was being Judged ). In Australia. It is my understanding. Most Judges are of Horticulture not Bonsai.
The Royal Agriculture Society in Perth Western Australia decided to hand it over to The Bonsai Society of Western Australia.
The society did not have a set of Judging rules!!. They the asked various Bonsai enthusiast, whom they assumed were good at interpreting.
Then said to use the Chart on Judging by Deborah Koreshoff in her book.
Bonsai it Art Science History and Philosophy. Every body was happy!!.
Darky

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  John Quinn on Fri May 08, 2009 3:09 am

I have the Koreshoff book and I think the Guideline for Judging, found in the chapter "Exhibiting, Display and the Judging of Quality in Bonsai", is a reasonable tool for assessing a tree in an organized manner, assigning points for such features as trunk, branches,foliage,roots,soil,pot and finally "aesthetic quality".

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Vance Wood on Sat May 09, 2009 1:40 am

You really can't separate the standards from the rules totally they are kind of extensions of each other. But that is not necessarily bad, as long as the standards are open to innovation, growth and discovery. Often the concept of the rules are inflexible, dogmatic and slow to change. The standards give you an idea where you stand in certain situations, and the rules are a reflection of good practices over time by others so that you do not have to necessarily do all of the discovery work yourself.

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Reiner Goebel on Sat May 09, 2009 6:55 am

The German bonsai club published a pretty good guide for judging bonsai a few years ago.

I am not a great fan of judging bonsai in a formal way, which is what you inevitably get into when you publish judging guidelines. We do not judge our bonsai here in Toronto. Officially. Of course you can always count on some loudmouth holding forth on the merits and demerits of one tree or another. Laughing

Guidelines for the styling of bonsai have to be flexible and will always be subject to personal interpretation. However, to the extent that bonsai is not only art but also craft, I think guidelines can be established.

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Rob Kempinski on Sat May 09, 2009 1:43 pm

I haven't seen the Aussy standards, but to me the only standard applicable would be the plant has to be in a container and I'm flexible on that if someone comes up with something creative. cyclops

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Reiner Goebel on Mon May 11, 2009 6:06 am

Anything potted goes then, I guess. Embarassed

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  JimLewis on Mon May 11, 2009 12:53 pm

Hey, John . . . I thought it was a "Bonsai Standard" that bonsaiests were never to be photographed in coat and tie! I don't think I even OWN a tie any more.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  John Quinn on Mon May 11, 2009 10:52 pm

JimLewis wrote:Hey, John . . . I thought it was a "Bonsai Standard" that bonsaiests were never to be photographed in coat and tie! I don't think I even OWN a tie any more.
I didn't say the pic was actually me! Cool

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Re: Standards for Bonsai Dress Code

Post  bonsaistud on Tue May 12, 2009 3:19 am

I lost my tie toooo...

Pat

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  dennismc on Tue May 12, 2009 8:33 am

Hi Everyone

I have found this discussion very interesting. As a member of the committee developing the guidelines I think that they are quite open and definitely not rigid. I myself prefer that artistic merit be the guideline and I believe that these rules certainly reflect this.

The guidelines have not been published as far as I am aware yet as there is still some work to do. I am sure that when completed they will be published and will answer a lot of your concerns.

regards
Dennis Mc

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Randy_Davis on Tue May 12, 2009 6:36 pm

I too have always found the topic of "standards" to be a rather interesting subject but all to often found the discussions usually lead to generalities and vagaries such that nothing substantial is ever derived at that can stand up to significant scrutiny. I have read Atilla Soos article on the subject at the "Art of bonsai project" and find it okay but elemental and in the end still relies on a judge’s subjectivity, personal experience and preference, and does not take into account many other aspects that could or should be assessed. I would love to read more but alas there is little published material on the subject on the internet and being poor I cannot afford to buy the myriad of books, many of which only delve into one or two aspects. All too often we don't ask the most basic of questions "what is the purpose of judging". There can be many purposes, Education, Evaluation within skill levels, design, horticultural merit, display and so on. There are certainly different levels of judging as in club, regional, national, international, formal-juried and informal non-juried each of which can be done for a different purpose. There are many organizational examples from which to draw glimpses into the subject but it does take the “organization” to codify the results. The process is a long and painful one but in the end does put some semblance of balance into the act. I know in some of the horticultural organizations I’ve belonged to Judges had to be accredited. Without going through the pain collectively with a clear purpose in mind, judging will always be more of a detractor to the hobby particularly to the new commers. In my mind, no judging is better than bad or incomplete judging. Would love to talk more on the subject if anyone is interested.

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  JimLewis on Tue May 12, 2009 8:13 pm

I have read Atilla Soos article on the subject at the "Art of bonsai project" and find it okay but elemental

I agree, whole heartedly.

and in the end still relies on a judge’s subjectivity, personal experience and preference, and does not take into account many other aspects that could or should be assessed.

Like what? It's up to YOU to use the extent "standards" as you design your tree and as you decide it is worth showing. That should be a given, and the judge assumes standards are met (except, probably in those egregious and obvious cases where the "artist" flouts the standard. From that point on, it's up to the judge and what he brings to his judging is himself. And, in any artistic (or, to a lesser extent, craft) endeavor, you should WANT a judge's subjective opinion. I can't imagine even doing bonsai if a judge is going to have a sheet of standards in his left hand while he points with his judicial right finger at my tree and says, "that branch should be here, and this one should be there, and there should be no more than X number" (of this or that) in the display." This isn't a dog show where the muzzle has to be pointed, the ears must be set just so and the tail must be clipped at THIS distance. Judges have more discretion when judging arts or crafts.

Standards have to be general. We don't want bonsai by blueprint. Next time you show that tree, of course, another judge's subjective opinion will be (maybe) a different one. And that's good.

In the USof A, at least, ABS's booklet: Bonsai Manual for Appreciating, Judging and Buying Bonsai by Tom Zane is only $15.00 to non-members ($13.50 for members).

Of course I don't have too much use for juried bonsai exhibits, anyway. It's OK if, like in the Carolina Bonsai Expos, there's a "people's choice" award (usually to the most gussied up and "impressive" tree, and not necessarily to the best tree) and the Guest of Honor puts his imprimatur on a couple of trees he or she likes. This isn't Little League, where you win or get a spanking.


Last edited by JimLewis on Tue May 12, 2009 8:19 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Alan Walker on Tue May 12, 2009 8:17 pm

To judge or not to judge. Opinions on this will be as varied as recipes for soil mixes. Some thrive on competition, and it just motivates a more energetic pursuit of excellence. Others are repelled by it. Others could care less.
Every endeavor will have judging. Judged competitions do not seem to have hurt the interest in raising dogs, cats, horses, etc. Some people invest heavily in competitions, and others, like me, just get their dogs or cats at the pound and enjoy them for what they are, not what they represent. The fact of having fishing competitions does not keep most fishermen from fishing for its own sake. Same for golf or any other hobby or activity.
At least in North America we have a tradition in bonsai of not judging. This is ironic, since the American culture of competitiveness is legendary. My personal opinion is that places where there is active, formal judging and competition seem to have more active, thriving bonsai communities, so I think this is a good thing. Will some people be intimidated? To be sure, but there is no need to be heavy handed about the competitions. Judging is not a science; it strives to create objective standards for what is ultimately a very subjective endeavor. So you will always have to deal with offended parties who want to kill the umpire (referee, judge, etc.) It's human nature. Vive la difference!

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  JimLewis on Tue May 12, 2009 8:23 pm

Judged competitions do not seem to have hurt the interest in raising dogs, cats, horses, etc.

Been there and done all of those, and it HAS hurt those events. Where do you think the term "catty" came from? <g>

But they're not comparable. There no artistic element in a Champion French bulldog (to mention MY favorite dog). There's a helluva lot of "cuteness" involved, but she still has to meet as closely as possible a very rigid set of standards before the judge will give her the nod. We don't, can't, won't shouldn't produce bonsai to a standard as inflexible as those applied to a Frenchie.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

Post  Norma on Tue May 12, 2009 8:51 pm

In the late 90's our Minnesota bonsai club asked Roy Nagatoshi for input on updating our judging criteria.

Here are some of Roy's thoughts:
"I am totally against judging bonsai that are designed, trained and cared for by an experienced artist for many years because of my respect for the artist. However, those bonsai created by novice and intermediate persons who are still at the stage of learning the basic techniques of designing and caring of newly acquired trees may be judged for the benefit of evaluating their progress."

"Bonsai is the creation resulting from the application of a combination of both HORTICULTURAL SKILL and the ARTISTIC SKILL. Any omission, lack of or over bearing of these skills will affect the level of its quality and value. Therefore, judging has to be looked at from both fields. The two ultimate points a judge would look for in a bonsai are its naturalness and aesthetic value."

These are just some of his thoughts and he did leave us with a workable form with suggestions on how to determine points. One of his best is to "DEDUCT points from each element's FLAW from the WHOLE (100) so a bonsai's final judged quality is the remainder of the points left from the whole."

I wish I could say our club adopted this fine guide but we are considering it again this year. I believe the attitude at the time was to keep the very simple form for lack of judging time. Oh... well Rolling Eyes

Norma

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Re: Standards for Bonsai

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