What is bonsai? (and what is not)

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What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Poink88 on Thu Mar 08, 2012 2:59 pm

There is an interesting discussion about trees, succulents, cactus and palms as "bonsai" in this thread ( http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t9376-succulent-bonsai ) and to avoid it getting ambushed I am starting this one.

I believe the best starting point of a good discussion for this is a proper definition of bonsai. Is there a world accepted definition? I ask since I've seen different ones and the most simplistic so far is "potted plant" or "plant in a pot".

Once properly defined...maybe we can determine what is not bonsai. Wink

What do you think?

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  JimLewis on Thu Mar 08, 2012 4:10 pm

Must we?

A bonsai is what we think it is.

We need no more knee jerk reactions like we had on that succulent thread.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  fiona on Thu Mar 08, 2012 4:19 pm

We've visited this topic before and the one that sticks in my mind is the "does it need to be in a pot?" thread that went on for over 100 posts. Sadly, like other similar discussions, it ended in some folk getting irked to the point of being downright nasty.

Feel free to continue though - but I'm afraid I shall be sitting out.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Russell Coker on Thu Mar 08, 2012 6:08 pm

fiona wrote:Feel free to continue though - but I'm afraid I shall be sitting out.

Yep, these NEVER end well. This will be my only input too.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Poink88 on Thu Mar 08, 2012 6:31 pm

In this case...may I request that this thread be locked or deleted?

Thank you.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  fiona on Thu Mar 08, 2012 7:22 pm

Well, that would be one way of dealing with it but rather stifling of free speech I would think. I'm inclined to see where it goes. Who knows - this might be the light-bulb moment of enlightenment.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Joel T on Thu Mar 08, 2012 9:23 pm

In my opinion, i think any miniature artistic plant in a pot can be considered a bonsai.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Guest on Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:59 am

I think this is lot better this way. at least we can discuss it openly and not in PM. but let's do it with civility, and let's not put a limit in putting somebody's opinion as long as he/she is not disrespecting anybody.


regards,
jun Smile

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Guest on Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:37 am

Since Dario asked for it, I think he won't get offended.

For me it should not be any plant potted in a bonsai pot or slab should be called bonsai.

It should be an Artistically "created" tree potted (or container) that resembles a tree in nature. And not just any plant, it must be a tree or woody plant that you can apply bonsai techniques on the we know of, like wiring, clip and grow, defoliation etc...

It if is okey to write more idea here other than this one I will be willing to share more.

...and I am not saying "that I am insisting my idea because it is a very important one and everyone must adhere to it" ---from PM.
...a gag order now...


regards,
jun

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  marcus watts on Fri Mar 09, 2012 7:53 am

hi,
My opinion of an actual 'bonsai' is a woody barked tree or some shrubs that can be picked up and moved and have either a real tree like image (ie trunk & branch (es)), or a trained, stylised and pleasing image that does not depict a tree in nature but instantly shouts 'bonsai' at you ie japanese shimpaku junipers with extensive dead wood but full dense clouds of foliage.

for me personally a plant in early stages of training, a 'stick in a pot', call it what you will is not yet anywhere near a creation worthy of the title bonsai. Many years ago Dan Barton used the phrase potensai and this just about perfectly sums up material trees as they have the potential to become an actual bonsai with training, styling and applied technique.

The much simplified 'tree is a pot' is not a bonsai - otherwise every garden center and landscape nursery would have nothing but bonsai in stock when they actually have potential bonsai material. Same as gardens and hedges - full of potential material, often nice, but our hedges are not bonsai yet either

tbo though I think in the west "bonsai" is only an associated name and actually means nothing at all really- to enjoy the hobby and make trees for your own pleasure should be the primary reason, and if onlookers like your work it is a bonus.. to worry too much about what others think or to style trees for your peers comments alone is doing it for the wrong reasons.

cheers Dario, hope this gives you my personal view of our hobby

Marcus

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Poink88 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:35 pm

I was looking around "The Art of Bonsai" site a few months back and found an old contest thread. I noticed that one of the judge refused to score a lot of entries and the justification on all is that the entry "is not a bonsai" including some stunning chojubai (IIRC). I later saw the pattern and realized the judges' higher standard and different criteria. Though I understand that judges' position, it also bothers me that there is no clear definition even among the masters. The recent thread re-ignited that curiosity.

There are few basic questions that might help us narrow this down (far from being comprehensive but a start).
1. Is a pot required to meet the bonsai criteria?
2. If above is yes, is any pot (even plastic garden center pot) be used on a bonsai? May sound laughable, but it can affect the basic definition significantly.
3. Is there a size restriction to a bonsai?
4. Is there plant type restrictions? (tree, bush, shrub, succulent, cactus, palm, bamboo/grass, etc.)
5. Is bonsai an art? If it is, should we restrict bonsai to those that are museum grade? My daughter's doodle in canvass with acrylic paint is a "painting" to me and my wife...but ask anyone else and they will say it is not. Do you have to be a known artist to produce a painting? Same goes to bonsai and the more I ponder about this...the more confused I get.

I personally do not believe any plant in a pot is a bonsai either...where to draw the line is nebulous. In a nut shell, I think my personal definition of a bonsai is in line with that of Jun's and Marcus'.

I guess our own understanding and standard will ultimately define it for us (individually). For me, I will just continue loving and caring for my sticks and stumps and hope someday be worthy to be called bonsai (and not just by me).

The good thing that us newbies can enjoy too is that no one expects much from us!!! LOL It is easier to enjoy the simple things this way. I am not hang up on styling (yet)....just rejoicing at the very first sign of bud from my collected trees. What can I say...I am simple, excitable, and easy to please. (please don't ask my wife, she might have a totally different opinion) cheers

Have a good day everyone!

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  lennard on Fri Mar 09, 2012 6:58 pm

Trees - plants that grow big enough for me to sit in it's shade; climb it and have place for birds to nest in.

When Europeans first arrive in South-Africa they named the plants according to the image they had of similar plants from home - that's why they called Portulucaria afra "Spekboom" (Spek=fat and boom=tree); Quiver tree, not Quiver succulent and Kremetart boom(Creme of tartar tree or Baobab.), not "Guys, we are very tired, let's go and sit in the shade of the Baobab succulent." This will also apply to the Boomaalwyn or Tree aloe: an aloe that looks like a tree. If the ancient Japanese or Chinese bonsai growers had these in their back yards they would also have grown them into bonsai. John Naka wrote after his first visit to Africa: ".....I believe that the Baobab tree can become a bonsai model for your part of the country."

In the true spirit of bonsai for me bonsai is the artistically growing of a plant achieving the look of a tree in nature and not specifically growing scientifically determined tree-like plants. Growing these plants in traditional bonsai pots, on slabs and rocks is only because it adds to the art of growing bonsai. To think of it, almost all bonsai grown from tree species can not be called trees any more - I can not sit in their shade or climb them anymore Twisted Evil

If we are going to insist on tree species artistically grown into miniature replicas of the trees in nature we are going to have a very boring hobby - no one here is going to grow Buddleja or Olive any more because the trees in nature here of this two species are quite boring - but this two trees can be grown into wonderful lightning struck, formal uprights, hollow trunks and so on.

So if I can grow a Coleus and fool you into believing it is imitating a nice semi-cascade tree or grow a miniature aloe imitating a Tree aloe I think I have grown a bonsai.

My thoughts on the subject.

Lennard

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  attila on Sat Mar 10, 2012 3:56 am

Poink88 wrote:I was looking around "The Art of Bonsai" site a few months back and found an old contest thread. I noticed that one of the judge refused to score a lot of entries and the justification on all is that the entry "is not a bonsai" including some stunning chojubai (IIRC). I later saw the pattern and realized the judges' higher standard and different criteria. Though I understand that judges' position, it also bothers me that there is no clear definition even among the masters. The recent thread re-ignited that curiosity.

There are few basic questions that might help us narrow this down (far from being comprehensive but a start).
1. Is a pot required to meet the bonsai criteria?
2. If above is yes, is any pot (even plastic garden center pot) be used on a bonsai? May sound laughable, but it can affect the basic definition significantly.
3. Is there a size restriction to a bonsai?
4. Is there plant type restrictions? (tree, bush, shrub, succulent, cactus, palm, bamboo/grass, etc.)
5. Is bonsai an art? If it is, should we restrict bonsai to those that are museum grade? My daughter's doodle in canvass with acrylic paint is a "painting" to me and my wife...but ask anyone else and they will say it is not. Do you have to be a known artist to produce a painting? Same goes to bonsai and the more I ponder about this...the more confused I get.

I personally do not believe any plant in a pot is a bonsai either...where to draw the line is nebulous. In a nut shell, I think my personal definition of a bonsai is in line with that of Jun's and Marcus'.

I guess our own understanding and standard will ultimately define it for us (individually). For me, I will just continue loving and caring for my sticks and stumps and hope someday be worthy to be called bonsai (and not just by me).

The good thing that us newbies can enjoy too is that no one expects much from us!!! LOL It is easier to enjoy the simple things this way. I am not hang up on styling (yet)....just rejoicing at the very first sign of bud from my collected trees. What can I say...I am simple, excitable, and easy to please. (please don't ask my wife, she might have a totally different opinion) cheers

Have a good day everyone!

i look at things as craft even the so called artist are no more than craftsman. sometimes we make things for enjoyment or relaxations. this does not make anybody who engaged in such activities an artist. because to become a master one should take the craft in to higher levels, which can only be achived by years of training, practicing , discipline and intelectual involvements. one will become an artist and something becomes an art form, not because i call myself an artist and call my craft art, but because i strive for improvement and may i say perfection. what i create will pleases the eye and envoke emotions from the viewer, allow the mind to meander for a time.
for me bonsai is a form of meditation, therefore the joy is for me and if others share it with me, then be it. there is no right or wrong way only different point of views and different path we take.
there is a small group of people who are eager to grab power and the way they do it is come up with rules and regulations to keep the mass in order and to be able to keep themself separated from the mass. it applies to any walk of life, we call them elite, so either you are in or out. if you adhere to the rules and play by their rules they might let you in otherwise you are only an onlooker an inferior scab, wart and dirtbag and can only admire their godslike life farao . your life only worthy of a worm. so go back to your bench and keep grinding!!! Mad
amen

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  my nellie on Sat Mar 10, 2012 7:42 am

Hello, Dario!
Beginner here, too... So, I assure you I used to have the same questions and doubts and so on...
My contribution : "Do not loose the trip"

May I share with you an excerpt of the poem "Ithaca" by Greek poet C. V. Kavafis

ITHACA

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
... ... ...

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  SamC on Fri Mar 16, 2012 6:15 am

I found this quote a few weeks ago. When I read through it I automatically felt it applied to my work with bonsai.

Ira Glass was commenting on writing when he wrote this, but it really seems to apply to most endeavors.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I know this is more philosophy than "what is a bonsai", but I feel in it pertinent. It addresses some of the pernicious "bonsai is art" discussions that drove me around the bend. I felt disheartened, and upset at some comments that seemed to boil down to, "Unless you create world class pieces, you are doing bonsai a huge disservice". There is apparently no room for amateurs in some people's points of view. Oh well! How often can someone just jump into an art of craft and instantly be "Michelangelo"?

When I first visited the Pacific Rim Collection I was hit with the desires to run and dance with joy and simultaneously fall to my knees in humble appreciation. I think I could be so moved by a well designed succulent as well. I have seen some lovely rose bonsai as well. I think the plant evoking "tree-ness" is as important as being a tree. Frankly I have seen some trees that have been styled to the point where they no longer appear as "trees" to me. Some of the "super-sumo" trees seem less tree-like than some adeniums.

I can see a strict definition for judging, but if one is too strict one might confine bonsai to ONLY Japanese native material and such plants that the Japanese artist could obtain. In my opinion this would be a shame. I think I could hedge my bets and paraphrase Potter Stewart, "I might not know what a bonsai is, but I know one when I see it" Razz

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  JMcCoy on Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:18 am

All art is subjective, it sounds cliche, but there it is. What is holy to one is crass to another. If you don't think so, try talking to a painting, sculpture, or photography group. If you think that the discussion can be heated among students, then sit among some professionals sometime! Good Bonsai like other good works of art touch us, and so we know it when we see it. Technique and craft count for a lot, but you can throw technique at a tree and have it become quite boring.

I've seen some terrific Bonsai over the years that evoke forest giants, tortured or beautiful sentinels, but then I've also seen some pretty awe-inspiring trees which looked more like calligraphy or were anthropomorphic. Succulent, grasses, herbs, trees, shrubs, vines.. these are all just raw material until you feel that connection to the work, and those who create bonsai know how that feels. If your heart is in the Bonsai you work on, and a respect for the natural world creeps in, then it's being done right.

I think many of the posts here that talk about the journey of Bonsai being a key is really important. Unlike other static arts, Bonsai never stops (at least we hope!). So the journey and the art of Bonsai really is for the owner. As much as shows and competitions can shape taste and inspire us, the most important connection is more personal - between the person and his Bonsai.

Those are my touchy-feely thoughts on the matter.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  Tony on Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:15 am

Is it THAT time of year again Rolling Eyes

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  openxcellaus on Wed Mar 28, 2012 10:42 am

I think most of bonsai are lost due to inappropriate watering than from all other causes combined. The length of time between watering can vary quite a bit depending on situations such as humidify,weather conditions.

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

Post  fiona on Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:37 am

openxcellaus wrote:I think most of bonsai are lost due to inappropriate watering than from all other causes combined. The length of time between watering can vary quite a bit depending on situations such as humidify,weather conditions.


Please can you tell us more about yourself, openxcellaus. Are you using an online translator? Are you based in Australia (Austrilia?) or India?

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Re: What is bonsai? (and what is not)

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