Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: Walter_Pall on August 04, 2009, 01:00 PM

Title: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on August 04, 2009, 01:00 PM
"Walter, thank you for bringing this discussion here.  Hopefully we all can gain a better understanding.

I've seen this topic broached on many different occasions in the past, and in all that time I don't recall anyone seriously claiming that a well-done naturalistic tree looked ugly.  The world is large enough that we have to allow for differing tastes and if one likes the (neo)Classical styling more than the Naturalistic so be it, but I believe that most have an appreciation for the naturalistic style when its well-done even if they've no ambition to style their trees thus.  The strongest contention I've seen on this topic had more to do with the need to classify them at all.  

I can see how the Naturalistic style could pose challenges for judged work wherein the criteria on which it is judged hasn't been updated to accommodate for its strengths and nuances, leading some to think that the judges either have no appreciation or are unlearned (in their tastes).  I'd posit that over time, as the style gains familiarity and a broader appeal, an agreed upon criteria will be developed whose scores will adequately judge the quality of such Naturalistically styled trees.

On that note, what criteria would YOU use to judge a Naturalistic-styled tree?  What rubrics could be used to quantify excellence in this style?  What should have the most emphasis in terms of grading?  What is the biggest difference in terms of emphasis?  I'm no expert so all that I have are questions."

OK, I'll bite. Here are two bonsai that we can try to judge. I will do this in detail later. Now look at them and make up your mind.

Both would be in the category "flowering bonsai" in a judged competition.
Which is the better bonsai? What is good, what is bad? Are they comparable at all? Give them points from 1 to 10 and explain why. Tear them to pieces if you like, they are both my trees.

1) Azalea indica, 55 cm
2) Prunus cerasifera, European wild cherry, 60 cm
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on August 04, 2009, 07:08 PM
I'll bite the bullet Walter. I have admired your style and followed your work for some time. I like what you are doing and where you are taking the art. Some of your trees move me, and some leave me flat. Perhaps if seen in person this might change my mind somewhat, but I know you always show the best front.

With the ability to navigate several desktops at once I will endeavour to offer some positive criticism why neither moves me.

The first thought that comes to mind for the first tree, is poodle. I am no expert nor do I know the fundamentals of classical judging. I also understand that a Satsuki is allowed to bloom every second year or so and allowed to recover ans style in between blooming sessions as azaleas only bloom on new growth.

The pads on the first tree are over grown and albeit I like foliage clouds, there fullness represents a poodle effect for which I know you and I both do not care for.

Little movement of the trunk can bee seen although imagined.

The nebari is well established and peaceful with it's surroundings.

The first branch is a little too low for my liking, on second look that branch requires to be removed, it is coming from what appears to be the interior of the curve, more on that later...

The entire apex needs to be reworked and cut down and re-grown, it doesn't suit the tree. Once this done, depending where the first branch exits from, I would rethink whether it stays or not.

I would like to criticize this tree naked.

Second,

Well established tree with a decent basal flare and nebari. The secondary and tertiary branches are immature, which I know will be cut back next year or so. This tree isa about 3-5 years before exhibition state. I know this tree has been in a recent competition, but... The top can be developed from what is there, it is your vision Walter, you know where this tree is going, therefore I will bite no further.

Both trees 6.5
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: weeijk on August 05, 2009, 07:02 AM
Just a quick reply, just visualy comparing, I would say the second tree is the more realistic.
Now in a more closeup view, this is my observation.
tree1/picture1: has a almost perfect nebari, its styled more or less moyogi, I agree with Rick about the Poodle like paths. 2 branches on the left are quit straight looking.

I would judge it a 7 in naturalistic view.

tree2/picture2: Quit a strong looking tree, the nebari is good, but not as good as tree1. It has deadwood features and a good taper. Branches are the branches which you could find in nature, maybe not to well placed for a traditional tree, since branche1 and 2, left right are almost at the same height and very different in style.

I would judge it a 8,5 in naturalistic view.

In direct distant like and closely judged tree 2 is for me the best looking natural tree.

Just my views offcourse, Wessel
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: John Kirby on August 05, 2009, 11:48 AM
Walter,
Very interesting. The first tree was styled to show off its flowers, it is a Satsuki, and I would posit is not really a bonsai at all, but a platform for flower display. an 8 as a flower platform.

I like the Cherry, I think the long bare trunk with nice dead wood, between the very lush (inferred) pom poms of foliage (3 left, right and apex) is a little incongrous, but the overall package and feel is good. I would give it a 6 based on averaging of nrbari, trunk, branch, foliage (tramification) and feel scores.

John
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Attila Soos on August 06, 2009, 04:44 PM
To me the obviously better bonsai is the azalea.
For several reasons:

1) It has the "wow factor" that the prunus simply cannot even attempt to match.

2) It is much more refined that the prunus.

3) From the standpoint of bonsai techniques, it exhibits about 100 times the amount of work and skill level, than the techniques applied in the case of the prunus. The prunus could have been created by a bonsaist with average skill levels. The azalea of this size and caliber can only be created by those with expert knowledge and top skills. Proof: this azalea is obviously was imported from Japan. So far, I have NEVER seen azaleas of similar caliber created outside Japan. This is a testament to the skill level and enormous time required. Mind you, it is not artistic skill that I am talking about. It is horticultural skill, combined with artisanship (if I am wrong and the tree is not a Japanese import, than this is the first one that I've seen, of this caliber).

4) The azalea has achieved what it was created for: showing off the gorgeous, gigantic, and luxuriant flower pads, in a possibly exaggerated way. And it has the massive trunk and large nebari to provide adequate support and balance. The prunus, on the other hand, has some ways to go, before it crosses the "finish line", which is naturalness, age, rugged austerity, offset by the delicate early spring flowers (if I am not mistaken about the flowers).

So, the obviously superior bonsai is the azalea. A child can see that (I know, I will get shot at, for this statement, but I stand by it) :o

BUT...and this is a big but... this doesn't mean that we are supposed to like the azalea better. It is an entirely subjective choice.

For those who love azaleas, are enchanted by its flowers, and seek to light up a whole room with color and happiness, it is an easy choice.

But for those who rather prefer simplicity, austerity, randomness and spontaneity, they will see the azalea as too constrained, pompous, lacking naturalness, and frankly, a fake. So, they will like the prunus better. They will bring up any excuse from the book, such as "too big pads", "too straight branches", "too red flowers", "too much nebari", and anything else they can find, in order to justify their dislike - never mind the fact that there is nothing wrong with big pads and pocket branches by themselves, as long as they are used in the right context and for the right purpose. We all know that a so-called "fault" can always be used in a positive way, if we know how to present it.

As far as naturalness goes, what IS natural? Is the flower of the azalea not natural? Nobody expects a satsuki in flower to look like an old centurion from the Alps...I hope.

As far which is more Naturalistic..as we refer to the style in question, the prunus can definitely qualify, the azalea cannot.

I would score an 8.5 for the azalea and 6 for the prunus. Although I cannot totally exclude my personal preference in bonsai, I believe that when judging, one needs to put aside the personal feeling as much as possible, and look at the bonsai to be judged from the perspective of skills/techniques empoyed, in conjunction with the overall story that the tree is trying to convey.

Great thread, thank you for doing it!



Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: rockm on August 07, 2009, 08:26 AM
I think this comparison is "apples and oranges." You can't really compare the prunus and azalea toe to toe. They're completely different in intent and accomplishment.

Azaleas aren't constructed in Japan to be bonsai, per se. They're constructed to be "flower delivery systems" --to present their blossoms in the most spectacular manner possible. They are not intended in any way shape or form to be "naturalistic." When not in flower, they're mostly shoved onto back benches or back into the ground until the next flowering season.

Deciduous trees, like the prunus, used for bonsai are meant to convey an image of a real tree. They're not show ponies. They're more wild mustang. Mustangs rarely look like polished sleek racers. They're shaggy, snaggle toothed, worm ridden beasts. It's their spirit, however, that makes them beautiful. Spirit is conveyed in scars, attitude and solid bone structure.

Spirit is conveyed through their imperfect, damaged bodies. Same for naturalistic trees--gnarled trunks, wilder branch construction, barely tamed roots, and spare, but beautiful flowering in this case. Spare flowering in the prunus, I might add, is a foil for the massive unnatural showiness of the azalea.

Where the azalea pushes hundreds of blooms in drifts, the prunus has only a dozen or so on an unpretentious gnarled time worn trunk --spare melancholy and simple (which almost always trumps overblown, showy and loud--that's just me though...
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bwaynef on August 07, 2009, 10:33 AM
Since this thread is "for" me, I'd just like to point out that I wasn't asking for a comparison between a naturalistic and a (neo)classical styled tree (much less of such disparate refinement).  Its fine if that is how Walter sees fit to explain, but what I was after was an explanation from him as to what rubrics could be measured to determine a good naturalistic-styled tree from a bad one.  I think comparing the two (non-naturalistic-styled) trees actually complicates the discussion I was hoping to see.  Perhaps a comparison between a good and bad naturalistic tree is in order.

OK, I'll bite.
My apologies if you thought I was taunting you into a discussion.  Your reply implies that.  That was not the spirit in which my post was created.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Attila Soos on August 07, 2009, 12:48 PM
-spare melancholy and simple (which almost always trumps overblown, showy and loud--that's just me though...

That may be true, but after being surrounded by melancholy and simplicity for a long time, my body is really itching for some decadence and sensuality, if you get my drift...
Or else, I might as well trash my party music,  lock myself up in a monastery, and become a monk. :)
Then the next day, when I wake up with a headache, I can go back and look at my prunus again. That's the great thing about bonsai: there is one for every mood and every occasion.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: rockm on August 07, 2009, 01:02 PM
I'll take my decadence with Bushmills neat at the local watering hole. ;D There's no use searching for decadence in a tree. They can't dance very well and their jokes tend to be old and stale... :D
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Attila Soos on August 07, 2009, 01:26 PM
There's no use searching for decadence in a tree.

You have to stretch your imagination a little harder.
I have a hackberry with a trunk that looks just like the lower sections of a nude female - you can look at it from the front, or back  :)
Next spring it will be ready for a a bonsai pot, so I will post it here as soon as the "lady" is ready.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Larry Gockley on August 07, 2009, 01:28 PM
I'm reminded of a phrase from John Naka. To paraphrase, he said,  make your bonsai look like a tree, not your tree like a bonsai.  I realize that both trees underwent a lot of skilled labor to get to this point, however, I take a lot of stock in first impressions, and IMO the azalea does not look like any tree I have ever seen, or could imagine. It still looks like an azalea bush, beautiful as it is. I guess it's just that blond, brunette, red head thing. The second tree gets my vote. It looks like a tree. One I'd love to have , BTW. Larry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Attila Soos on August 07, 2009, 01:36 PM
It occurs to me that, if I compare our bonsai exhibits with the sections of a video store, most of our trees fall into the "drama" and "special interest" sections.

May be it is time to create some trees for the "comedy", "action", and "family" sections as well. I know that this would get us out of our confort zones, but that's what Cirque du Soleil, and other successful creative endeavours do with their artists - get them out of their confort zones, in order to be more creative. We are too ingrained into our old ways.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: rockm on August 07, 2009, 01:38 PM
"You have to stretch your imagination a little harder.
I have a hackberry with a trunk that looks just like the lower sections of a nude female - you can look at it from the front, or back"

No offense, but I'm married and have enough trouble with the spouse over bonsai without anthropomorphizing them. If I had one that competed for that kind of attention with my wife, I would find myself searching for a tree that looks like it had its assets seized. ;D
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: weeijk on August 07, 2009, 03:07 PM
May be it is time to create some trees for the "comedy", "action", and "family" sections as well. I know that this would get us out of our confort zones, but that's what Cirque du Soleil, and other successful creative endeavours do with their artists - get them out of their confort zones, in order to be more creative. We are too ingrained into our old ways.

They exist allready, Pop bonsai, crash bonsai and some trees of Nick Lenz (he has a few pop bonsai aswell  ;) )

I think we're drifting off the initial question here, I'd like to see more vote's from different BSG users.

No offence, Wessel
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: MatsuBonsai on August 27, 2009, 01:18 PM
Walter,

I was wondering if you had any more to share on this topic?  How would you propose these trees be judged, etc?
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bwaynef on October 15, 2009, 12:59 PM
OK, I'll bite. Here are two bonsai that we can try to judge. I will do this in detail later. Now look at them and make up your mind.

I'm looking forward to details.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 16, 2009, 11:22 AM
OK, here we are. We had very warm and dry weather for about four weeks. In my sort of climate this is so rare that one has to spend every minute with the trees then. afterwards there were several bonsai events I had to travel to, prepare and report afterwards. Now it is cold and a bit snowing and I have time. I did not forget you, as you see.

Here I throw several versions of judging for these two trees at you. All versions are reasonable. All versions are honorable opinions. Choose your favorite.

Azalea #1

What a wonderful flowering tree. it is so pleasant to see the small flowers on this azalea which are so evenly spread all over the crown. This requires great horticultural skill. The impression is rather natural, more so than with many azaleas that we see. The typical bonsai look with horizontal branches and rather large negative space was avoided here. The nebari is very good, but this is not unusual for this species. The small flowers and small foliage are a good choice for this size of trees. Large flowers as we often see them a re way too aggressive and out of proportion usually. Altogether a very fine specimen of azalea.

Azalea #2

This looks good at first sight but has many flaws: while the nebari is fine the tree is way too high compared to the thickness of trunk. The nice flowers somewhat hide the fact that the trunk behind them is bent in the usual zig-zag way which is really a gross misunderstanding of bonsai styling. The green mass and flowers are too large. There must be more negative space between the branches. The crown could be more triangular at the top. A rather poor example of azaleas.

Azalea #3

In general azaleas as they are styled and shown are kitsch. They all try to look desperately like a bonsai, that is like an ideal pine tree. And then the pine tree has lots of gaudy flowers. This is an appearance which is not good for azaleas at all although more or less 100 % of them are styled like that. It is really a transvestite. Well, if you like it, fine. So coming back to this specific tree we can see some of that. But the good thing is that it is in mild form. The ideal pine is not so much visible anymore. the ideal bonsai shape somehow looks more natural than usually. this will be loved by the general public, it will be graded highly by most judges. It is commercial though and thus it is questionable whether we have something that can be called art.
As far as azaleas are considered bonsai at all this is not so bad, but still too commercial to be considered a good bonsai.

Cherry #1

My entry at the 2008 Bonsai Olympics photograph contest. Result 5.33 points which was at the last third of 10 entries. I had chosen the cherry because I saw it as an outstanding flowering bonsai which I have worked on for 20 years and finally it has come to a showable stage.
The judges did not think so
Dan Barton - "Good nebari • bottom left branch too stiff • poor distribution of flowers • nice moss surface dressing "
Nick Lenz - "Nice pot, nice tree base, interesting main trunk motion and detail, and then comes the awkwardness of the branching."
Michael Persiano - "This tree reflect little work, in my opinion. The mid section of the tree lacks branch structure, and the lower branches need refinement."
summary: a mediocre bonsai


Cherry #2

This is not really a bonsai yet. It may not even have much potential as is. The awkward branches can hardly be tamed to look good eventually. The best advice is to cut back ruthlessly and start from scratch. The good nebari and a correct crown eventually will make sure that this is a good bonsai. This will take many years though. It has to be kept well to develop enough flowers which are evenly spread throughout the crown.
Not a showable bonsai but potentially good material.


Cherry #3

This is a remarkable flowering tree in the naturalistic style. The artist has created this from scratch in about twenty years. With great skill he has reached a stage at which the hand of man is totally invisible. It looks like all this was done by nature. The flowers are very small and the way they are located it looks very natural. the fact that they are few compared to other fruiting trees that we have seen is very pleasing as it is clearly an artistic effort to avoid the regular mainstream bonsai. A crown full of flowers would be aggressive beauty. This would have been kitsch. Kitsch was absolutely avoided here. Less is more. The small branches seem a bit too long for regular bonsai taste. First of all they are very natural. But horticulturally this is absolutely necessary as this kind of tree only flowers at the very end of last year's shoots. They will be cut back in summer.
Overall an outstanding flowering tree at a level rarely seen.






Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 16, 2009, 03:43 PM
 ??? what am I missing. I see 4 pictures for 2 trees. Where are we getting 6 trees from?
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: JRob on October 16, 2009, 03:52 PM
I assumed that they were comments from 3 judges.

JRob
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bonsaikc on October 16, 2009, 04:41 PM
OK, here we are. We had very warm and dry weather for about four weeks. In my sort of climate this is so rare that one has to spend every minute with the trees then. afterwards there were several bonsai events I had to travel to, prepare and report afterwards. Now it is cold and a bit snowing and I have time. I did not forget you, as you see.

Here I throw several versions of judging for these two trees at you. All versions are reasonable. All versions are honorable opinions. Choose your favorite.


I found it just a bit confusing, too, until I realized Walter was discussing two trees from three different viewpoints each.

Chris
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 16, 2009, 11:27 PM
 ??? May In be so bold to suggest that we stat from the beginning!
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 17, 2009, 01:34 AM
Well, as you can see it is not all that easy. Bonsai can be seen from many angels. One and the same tree can be considered trash by one serious judge and world class by another one. and both are right. There is no right and wrong. it all depends on where you come from, where you stand in this game, what you expect, what you have experienced. it all depends whether one has an open mind or not. Most don't.
Who can tell what is right  and what is wrong? Well nobody really, but some are more in a position than others.
Bottom line: it all depends WHO is the judge. The tree will stay the same.
Only history will tell what is good or not. Or will it ever?

Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 17, 2009, 01:41 AM
OK, back to the beginning:

'Which is the better bonsai? What is good, what is bad? Are they comparable at all? Give them points from 1 to 10 and explain why. Tear them to pieces if you like, they are both my trees.

1) Azalea indica, 55 cm
2) Prunus cerasifera, European wild cherry, 60 cm

According to my own opinion the cherry is universes better than the azalea. It is even questionable whether the azalea is a piece of art. The cherry is one of my best creations.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 17, 2009, 09:39 AM
??? what am I missing. I see 4 pictures for 2 trees. Where are we getting 6 trees from?

I finally got it. Walter pasted previous comments the trees received in the past. I originally thought Walter was commenting.

Here is a tree where I admire the talent of the bonsaist in achieving the ramification and precise needle length on this pine. This took a long time to achieve and cannot be achieved by just anyone. That being said would I own such tree and the answer is no.

As we all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

There are two sides to bonsai: an artistic one; and a natural one. Some folks say can't we have both? and I say yes. Where do we delineate from both? That is not important. Some might call a tree artistically created whilst others may not. Some trees on the other hand can be strictly classified as art. Because art is once again subjective, it is not an easy concept to express. We know this subject was debated ad nauseum in the past, and no need to rehash it here.

The pine is technically sound, I can marvel over it for hours on the technical aspect alone. Does the tree move me? No. Well how can a tree not move me if I can spend hours marveling over the technical aspect of the tree? Well, one needs to give credit where credit is due. So we do. The talent required to produce this pine is out of this world so to speak, but does the tree look natural? To me it doesn't. Why is that? As I have stated many times in the past, the tree either moves me or it doesn't. Does this factor remove any of the talent from its creator? No, not in the least, again IMO. Can I explain why it doesn't move me, most of the time yes, other times, it takes a while to put my finger on it. In this particular case, it looks like little pompoms were attached to branches.

Analyzing the tree  a step further, if this was a deciduous tree the pompoms when viewed from a distance represent tiny little foliage clouds, indicating great ramification etc... In either case the tree does not look natural, albeit the deceitfulness of great age is readily apparent.

Creating a tree where man's intervention is not easily seen is extremely difficult to pull off, once again IMO. We all know that man is behind these creations etc... but how much imprinting was left behind, is a totally different subject.

Walter and a few others have commented that a tree must have soul, without it, well the tree becomes flat for the lack of a better word. In the case of this pine does the tree have soul, once again IMO yes. So if the tree has soul, why doesn't it move me. Because in all its beauty, it looks artificial. At times too much of a good thing can be overwhelming or overdone. At the same time I would like to see this tree in person, perhaps it would convey a different message, perhaps the flatness of a photograph leads us to inadequate conclusions. This tree may well look natural in person...

Nonetheless, regardless of how we view things or perceive things, those perceptions can never take away the talent of their creators.

Getting back to the original discussion. Yes the flowers on this particular Azalea are small as well as the leaves a technical challenge indeed. Wrt Cherry, Walter is proud of this tree and has every right to be, I just don't see where and others as well. Some of the reviews the tree received have angered Walter, and that is also understandable as some were quite harsh, it's his baby so to speak.

In closing you can't please all of the people all of the time but, have accomplished much if you can please some of the people most of the time.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 17, 2009, 10:19 AM
Many more years for that gap to fill in, if ever.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 17, 2009, 11:24 AM
Many more years for that gap to fill in, if ever.

keep it green,
Harry

I don't think there ever was an intent into filling that gap, considering the rest of the tree. If so, it would have been accomplished by now one would think.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 17, 2009, 11:29 AM
Somebody wasted a lot of time then, IMHO. Right or wrong, I'm big into balance and symmetry, this tree has neither.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 18, 2009, 06:46 AM
In the context of all sorts of misunderstandings about the naturalistic bonsai style I have recently opened  a new blog with articles that I wrote for all kinds of media. This one might be of special interest:

http://walterpallbonsaiarticles.blogspot.com/2009/10/naturalistic-pine.html (http://walterpallbonsaiarticles.blogspot.com/2009/10/naturalistic-pine.html)
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bwaynef on October 18, 2009, 08:00 AM
OK, back to the beginning:
...

Since we've gone back to the beginning once, the crux of the quote that started this thread "for" me (which didn't address the issue I tried to bring up at all (http://bonsaistudygroup.com/general-discussion/judging-bonsai-for-bwaynef/msg2098/#msg2098))
Quote
On that note, what criteria would YOU use to judge a Naturalistic-styled tree?  What rubrics could be used to quantify excellence in this style?  What should have the most emphasis in terms of grading?  What is the biggest difference in terms of emphasis?  I'm no expert so all that I have are questions."


Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 18, 2009, 09:34 AM
'On that note, what criteria would YOU use to judge a Naturalistic-styled tree?  What rubrics could be used to quantify excellence in this style?  What should have the most emphasis in terms of grading?  What is the biggest difference in terms of emphasis?  I'm no expert so all that I have are questions.'

I wonder how often I have to repeat this.

criteria: it must look like it was all done by nature, it must not look like a bonsai at all but like a tree. And then it must impress you. It can impress you by it's beauty, by it's ugliness, by It's unusualness or by all of that. The more it impresses yo the more art it is for you. This means it must have soul, the more the better

That's it, that's all. Where is the problem?
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 18, 2009, 09:41 AM
To confuse you completely, here are MY criteria for judging a REGULAR bonsai:

criteria: it can look like a bonsai. And then it must impress you. It can impress you by it's beauty, by it's ugliness, by It's unusualness or by all of that. The more it impresses yo the more art it is for you. This means it must have soul, the more the better
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: MatsuBonsai on October 18, 2009, 09:45 AM
Walter,

I believe the confusion, at least for me, lies in the fact that you don't appear to be using any particular guidelines for judging.  Many of the traditional shows will be judged on a scale of some sort, 10 points for trunk, 10 points for nebari, etc.  You seem to be describing feeling and emotion.  It appears to be quite subjective.  Is that correct?

I believe we're all trying to better understand.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: John Kirby on October 18, 2009, 09:46 AM
Thanks Walter, I always enjoy these discussions- they generate enough heat to warm one in the winter.

Rick, have you seen the tree you highlight in person? I only ask because some of the trees I have seen in lots of photographs I haven't though too much of (or thought of as "over rated") were very different in person. Some  were still, well, hard to figure out others are so much more.

John
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 18, 2009, 10:00 AM
' believe the confusion, at least for me, lies in the fact that you don't appear to be using any particular guidelines for judging.  Many of the traditional shows will be judged on a scale of some sort, 10 points for trunk, 10 points for nebari, etc.  You seem to be describing feeling and emotion.  It appears to be quite subjective.  Is that correct?'

That's correct. i believe to have a score sheet with nebari, trunk, moss, ramification etc. is a big mistake. judging HAS to be subjective. The only thing that counts is the overall impact on first sight. This is how all big bonsai names judge in a show when asked to judge. It is done in ten minutes. M ost would be surprised.
I had to judge a show in Buenos Aires of around 200 trees which were spread all over a park. Judges with me were Kunio Kobajashi and Pedro Morales. It was a walk of fifteen minutes because the trees were so much apart.
At the end there were three winners. Surprise: all judges just walked through like me. And all three had the same winner and the other two only in other order.  And all we had was a sheet of paper with one single number, the number of the tree.
Judging has to be subjective it is most important who is the judge. There is no such thing as objective judging.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 18, 2009, 10:41 AM
Thanks Walter, I always enjoy these discussions- they generate enough heat to warm one in the winter.

Rick, have you seen the tree you highlight in person? I only ask because some of the trees I have seen in lots of photographs I haven't though too much of (or thought of as "over rated") were very different in person. Some  were still, well, hard to figure out others are so much more.

John

John unfortunately not. That tree was sold after a display in Japan I believe. The price tag is the picture's title. Would I like to see this tree in person? Yes. Would I change my mind about it? Perhaps.

Getting back to one of Walter's criteria, the tree has to move you. Now albeit Walter is talking in person. Some trees photograph better than others and Walter has allured to this in one of his writings on a Scots Pine. IMO regardless which way the tree is viewed (photo or person) one is asked to comment on the tree as viewed. So if it is a photo regardless how flat that can be, we comment on what we see and, in either case the tree has to move you. The pine did not for previously stated reasons.

Let's take some of Kimura's work: some move me and some don't. Regardless of why a tree moves a person or not is a moot point IMO. If we take the missus for example she absolutely deplores jin and shari. Regardless of any explanations I may offer, she simply does not like it, even if it is great art. Is she wrong? No she is entitled to her opinion. However, she will not dismiss a tree displaying natural jin and shari. Now we both know that more than likely these were created by the artist, but the deceitfulness that the tree grew like that naturally is to be applauded.

The maple below I have seen in person. It was displayed at the Japanese Pavilion in Montreal's Botanical Gardens. I do not like this tree, it is a leafy triangle. It doesn't move me. Now I spent quite some time analyzing this tree, and when time permitted would sneak a peak inside. All the correct elements were there, but not utilized etc... No one could comment on this tree. There was also a JBP on display that was being grown out for some reason, again no comment were available from the caretakers wrt why. The latter should not have been on display IMO, without educating the public as to why it was being displayed (educational).

Back to the maple, my main question is why the first, 2nd and third branches were so low. I was able to attend a "bonsai" class where this maple was part of the presentation, even the orator couldn't explain why the branches were so low, and this is after a lecture on bonsai fundamentals. I attended the lecture out of curiosity, but left uneducated albeit I went with an open mind. Her presentation was so flawed that I had to bite my tongue out of respect. When a professor in Botany doesn't know the difference between an apple tree and a camperdown elm well...

Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Dustin Mann on October 18, 2009, 08:01 PM
Going to jump in(hope I don't get blasted back for ignorance/not esoteric enough). I love some trees in naturalistic style because it evokes very strong feeling about looking extremely old in minature form;like I am right there. Walter Pall's reply#27(natural. pine blogspot) and his #33 is succinct. It is a minaturation of a place by abstraction and distortation. For myself, it is about the tree first and the artist 2nd. In my day profession(psychologist), often say-"don't make it all about you" Look outside yourself and find calmness,loneliness,antiquity. Of course we judge uniformity of leaf size, tension/resolution in tree.  Thanks for reading. Dustin Mann
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 18, 2009, 09:04 PM
NEVER buy a tree because someone else tells you it's a nice tree, NEVER buy a tree just because it's a bargain, NEVER buy a tree to impress someone else, NEVER buy a tree you can't afford to kill, do some research and NEVER buy a tree that won't thrive in your climate, I could go on, but be sure to use some common sense, because you're the one that is going to have to take care of the and look at it for a long time hopefully. The smartest thing you can do is join a local club, they will save you time and money and make your bonsai experience more enjoyable. If you ever plan on showing your trees in an exhibit, you will have fun, but on the other hand , if you show your trees in a judged event, plan on getting your feelings hurt, too much politics and it sucks the fun out of your experience.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: John Kirby on October 19, 2009, 08:35 AM
Harry,
sounds like you had a bad experience at a judged show, some of them can be fun and educational- if you have a good judge who will  provide a useful rationale and critique.

Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: MatsuBonsai on October 19, 2009, 09:21 AM
Walter,

With all due respect this sounds very much like "you'll know it when you see it."  While I'm sure to some degree this may be the case.  However, I've seen you address many times those that have misunderstood you and declared they're own work as naturalistic when in fact it is merely untrained and unkept.  I know that you put a lot of work into your trees and it shows, but how are the less knowledgeable to gain the knowledge in this style?  Is there further explanation other that "it must impress you"?

To a certain degree I agree with Harry.  I would not purchase a tree simply because someone told me it was good.  But, if he taught me what was good and why it was good then that's another story entirely.

You said that the "cherry is one of my best creations".  Why?  What makes it better than the Scots?

Back to Wayne's original question, "what rubrics could be measured to determine a good naturalistic-styled tree from a bad one"?
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 19, 2009, 01:04 PM
Harry,
sounds like you had a bad experience at a judged show, some of them can be fun and educational- if you have a good judge who will  provide a useful rationale and critique.



A lot of bad experiences, but not at a bonsai show, all the other hobbies I've been involved in over the years. Judged exents are never on an even playing field, NEVER.  Car shows, koi shows, bonsai shows, they're all the same. The judge usually has a vested interest. I'm not bitter, just an observation from life's experiences. No one is open minded!!!
Just for the record, I won a trophy once, because I had the only koi in it's class, some accomplishment huh.


keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 19, 2009, 02:50 PM
One thing I need to clear up, going to a judged event where there are nice trees can be a great experience, I'm just talking about entering.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 19, 2009, 04:23 PM
' believe the confusion, at least for me, lies in the fact that you don't appear to be using any particular guidelines for judging.  Many of the traditional shows will be judged on a scale of some sort, 10 points for trunk, 10 points for nebari, etc.  You seem to be describing feeling and emotion.  It appears to be quite subjective.  Is that correct?'

That's correct. i believe to have a score sheet with nebari, trunk, moss, ramification etc. is a big mistake. judging HAS to be subjective. The only thing that counts is the overall impact on first sight. This is how all big bonsai names judge in a show when asked to judge. It is done in ten minutes. M ost would be surprised.
I had to judge a show in Buenos Aires of around 200 trees which were spread all over a park. Judges with me were Kunio Kobajashi and Pedro Morales. It was a walk of fifteen minutes because the trees were so much apart.
At the end there were three winners. Surprise: all judges just walked through like me. And all three had the same winner and the other two only in other order.  And all we had was a sheet of paper with one single number, the number of the tree.
Judging has to be subjective it is most important who is the judge. There is no such thing as objective judging.


Walter, let me go out on a limb here, I will bet anything you didn't pick a JBP or a Shimpaku.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 19, 2009, 05:02 PM
With all due respest to Mr. Naka, who said "Don't make your tree look like a bonsai, make your bonsai look like a tree. That's painting with a pretty wide brush, I have all conifers, JBP ,JRP, Ponderosa and Shimpaku, none of which look like anything I would want if not styled like a bonsai. If you want to know my vision of a bonsai, I will be glad to post some pictures, that don't resemble anything found in nature.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 20, 2009, 01:17 AM
Harry,
it seems to be easier for you to write than to read.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 20, 2009, 09:31 AM
Harry,
it seems to be easier for you to write than to read.

True Walter, I like to hear my own voice, don't we all. I have a little trouble with comprehension these days, sometimes I have to read things more than once to get to the marrow. The only comment made in your direction was the judging in Buenos Aires, which species did you pick.  My brand of humor is lost on some people (maybe a lot of people).

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 20, 2009, 09:48 AM
Harry, all three juges, including Kunio Kobajashi picked an ombu, I think is the name.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: John Kirby on October 20, 2009, 09:58 AM
Harry,
A few years ago in Texas (Fort Worth LSBF?) Walter judged the show. There were some tremendous trees there, Collected Junipers and a number of imports and nursery trees. The tree that Walter picked as best in show was a Japanese Black Pine, the tree I wanted to win was a collected Juniper (I had a vested interest it was a friend's tree), which Walter placed second or third. The JBP, which after going back and critically assessing it was the best tree that day, was a very nice old nursery import, very well presented and very "Japanese" in styling approach.

If you look at Walter's big Rocky Mountain Juniper that he has won about every award in Europe with, in the photo progressions of this tree, I see it looking more and more like a traditional Japanese styled tree as the ramification continues to mature and the foliage becomes denser and more mature. Could be just an optical illusion, but like most of the good European and North American Bonsai, it would be nice to see them in 25-30 years when their small branches and foliage have matured to match their trunks and main branches.


Just some thoughts,
John  
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 20, 2009, 10:02 AM
I guess it's a tropical and since I don't care for Tropicals, it wouldn't be fair of me to make a comment. Thanks for being a good sport.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 20, 2009, 11:11 AM
Harry,
A few years ago in Texas (Fort Worth LSBF?) Walter judged the show. There were some tremendous trees there, Collected Junipers and a number of imports and nursery trees. The tree that Walter picked as best in show was a Japanese Black Pine, the tree I wanted to win was a collected Juniper (I had a vested interest it was a friend's tree), which Walter placed second or third. The JBP, which after going back and critically assessing it was the best tree that day, was a very nice old nursery import, very well presented and very "Japanese" in styling approach.

If you look at Walter's big Rocky Mountain Juniper that he has won about every award in Europe with, in the photo progressions of this tree, I see it looking more and more like a traditional Japanese styled tree as the ramification continues to mature and the foliage becomes denser and more mature. Could be just an optical illusion, but like most of the good European and North American Bonsai, it would be nice to see them in 25-30 years when their small branches and foliage have matured to match their trunks and main branches.


Just some thoughts,
John  

These pictures don't do the tree justice. At one time it was maintained by Shawn Cary. The handsone gentleman in the picture, is none other than Frank Kroeker former owner of the  Sonlight nursury. There was no doubt in my mind, Walter picked the right tree that day !

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: mcpesq817 on October 20, 2009, 11:17 AM
Wow, that's a fantastic JBP!
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 20, 2009, 12:16 PM
Here's a few more trees from that show, they may include John's friend's juniper. 

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Attila Soos on October 21, 2009, 01:18 PM
Very enjoyable discussion, this is a rare thread that I haven't seen for a long time on forums.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Attila Soos on October 21, 2009, 02:02 PM
I agree with Walter that judging is entirely subjective, and this is how it should be. That's because bonsai itself can be looked at in different ways, and neither way is right or wrong. One can look at bonsai as a traditional craft, and judge it according to the guidelines developed by many generations of bonsai growers. One can also look at bonsai as visual art form, and as such, reward those trees that show the most originality and creativity. Then again, there are many who are inspired by the natural world, and want their bonsai to be the expression of naturalness. For them, a pine should look like a pine, and a maple should express characteristics displayed by the maples in nature. And there are those who look at bonsai as an entirely abstract expression of tree form, an embodyment of a certain ideal in their mind. These people value the simplicity of pure geometric forms, and their bonsai reflect that, through neat triangles, perfect domes, rhytmic horizontal pads, etc.
The above mentioned views often have contradicting components, and it would be impossible to select a set of specific criteria that can be applied to all views. This is why judging is entirely subjective.

Each of these different views look for different criteria, when it comes to judging. Which one is the correct view? There is no right or wrong answer. But a good judge will be consistent in applying his own criteria. So, know your judges, before you appoint them for your exhibit.  You can select judges with similar views, or you can select judges with different tastes, for the sake of variety.

This is why I have to reject the idea that a well executed azalea in the traditional style is inferior to a well executed prunus  that was designed in naturalness in mind. Or the notion that a black pine is inferior just because it lacks originality. It all depends on our preferences, likes and dislikes. I may have my own personal taste, but I can't expect everybody to have the same. That would be the same as saying that "my religion is better than your religion".
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 21, 2009, 02:50 PM
Attila, you can always spot a judge, they have one big eye in the middle of their forehead......... ;D

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Michael T on October 22, 2009, 07:25 AM
Walter,

I tend to believe that your view is  a bit too extreme.  Evaluating bonsai is not purely a subjective inquiry.  Most art no matter what genre it is does depend on certain accepted conventions.  It is only how those conventions are stylistically expressed that varies subjectively.

As to bonsai, it's fair to say that the following almost always apply: that nebari should be evenly distributed, that trunks should taper, that branching should show good ramification, that a tree should have good symetry, that the pot shouldn't overpower the tree.

And there are other conventions that generally apply: that bar branches usually don't work; that crossing branches usually don't work, that evergreens usually don't look good in glazed pots.

It is only how these conventions are expressed stylistically where true subjectivity begins.   Formulaic japanese styles versus what you've termed naturalistic.  

Neither extreme expressed so far is correct.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bwaynef on October 22, 2009, 09:55 AM
I wonder how often I have to repeat this.

criteria: it must look like it was all done by nature, it must not look like a bonsai at all but like a tree. And then it must impress you. It can impress you by it's beauty, by it's ugliness, by It's unusualness or by all of that. The more it impresses yo the more art it is for you. This means it must have soul, the more the better

That's it, that's all. Where is the problem?
You seem to have answered a question I did not ask.  You lament the fact that trees score poorly under traditional judging so I ask for specific things to look for when judging a tree styled naturalistically.  Your answer was that judging naturalistic bonsai is done "by feel".  I'll infer then that identifying rubrics by which Naturalistically-styled trees can be judged is more than a little difficult, if not impossible.

As I was quoted as saying, the main contention I've seen to Naturalistic bonsai is not in their acceptance as art but the need for some to classify them at all.  The paradox comes when one of its biggest proponents is either unwilling or unable to classify specifically what makes them good beyond an impression or a hunch.

I certainly appreciate your bringing this discussion here as I've surmised you're leery of broaching this topic.  I also enjoy the trees you classify as naturalistic.  My question that started this was done in an attempt to improve our ability to judge Naturalistic bonsai.  How do you foresee the situation being corrected?
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bonsaikc on October 22, 2009, 10:22 AM
I  have to say that this thread has been more illuminating and uplifting than most I've read on the topic. I am predisposed toward the objective, which may put blinders on me from time to time. So the discussion of the feel of a tree, etc., is very good for me to read. I do agree that neither extreme may be the most beneficial position to the practice of the art. However, it's proponents of ideas outside the norm that move that norm and expand one's horizons.

Walter, I love many of your trees, although neither of the trees posted in your thread are your best work, IMO. Some of your best trees look completely natural in the smallest detail, and certainly do not betray the artist's hand. The cherry in this thread (to me) looks a bit untrained, which is a different feel altogether. "De gustibus non est disputandem" or something like that.

Thanks for this thread and I certainly hope we can continue these kind of discussions while staying solidly in the realm of civility and concern for each other. Oh, and with a little less silliness. You know who you are.  :D

Chris

Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 22, 2009, 12:29 PM
You're more than welcome to ban me if my attempt a humor offends you. Censorship offends me, if I'm obeying the rules. Unless humor is against the rules.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 22, 2009, 12:43 PM
Harry,

I may be missing something here? Why this message? You have offended nobody. In this tread at least  ;D
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 22, 2009, 12:53 PM
See Chris's post above mine telling me, he didn't like my picture of a judge. It was his subtle way of telling me to knock it off.

keep it green,
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: MatsuBonsai on October 22, 2009, 01:27 PM
My brand of humor is lost on some people (maybe a lot of people).

keep it green,
Harry

Man, Harry, you sure do know how to hijack and derail a good conversation.  :)

I took Chris' comment as a lighthearted and in good fun, as you seem to have been poking a little fun at yourself and the "judges" throughout this thread.  

What was the original topic again?   ;D
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 22, 2009, 02:21 PM
I wonder how often I have to repeat this.

criteria: it must look like it was all done by nature, it must not look like a bonsai at all but like a tree. And then it must impress you. It can impress you by it's beauty, by it's ugliness, by It's unusualness or by all of that. The more it impresses yo the more art it is for you. This means it must have soul, the more the better

That's it, that's all. Where is the problem?

Walter,

This is the type of statement I have great difficulty with, not by the statement itself, nor the tone but the rationale behind it. I find it both confusing and perplexing, especially the "bolded" part. Notwithstanding, we know John saying, and we know the direction you mainly take wrt bonsai.

To conclude that it must have soul, is indeed a pretty bold statement and this is where I get totally confused. IMHO if the tree fails to move me regardless of it's beauty or ugliness, then it does not have soul. Once again IMHO if it doesn't speak to me, then it doesn't have soul, without soul it becomes a inate object therefore, one that cannot speak.

I am not talking about the tree telling a story of survival, or one of glorious blissfulness growing in wide open meadows etc... I am talking about evoking a feeling, a mysterious intriguing feeling, an unquenchable thirst for more etc...

Perhaps my confusion stems from your conveyed disdain of the word "bonsai", yet we can see many trees in your collection that could be deemed bonsai. If we take your famous RMJ for example, that particular tree would fit the category as a "bonsai" because I doubt that we would find one like that in nature and some might even refer to that particular tree as "topiary". On the other hand your maple is definitely natural looking, so is a linden you have posted recently, whilst the cherry, well we have debated that one.

Understanding your movement, and the drive to be different is commendable as pioneering is not an easy road to follow. But we need to be realistic at the same time, if we do not like a tree because it is ugly, then it most have soul because it evoked in us the feeling of yuch, is pure unadulterated "poppycock" IMO, either that or I am completely in left field on this one and would welcome enlightenment openly.

Is this pine naturalistic, a bonsai or both? Does it really matter? It has soul ans speaks volume, and yes it deserved to be a winner. Perhaps this tree is not worth 300k as the last one I posted, but this one I would welcome on my bench.

Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 22, 2009, 04:02 PM
Rick,

I NEVER have said that a tree must be naturalistic to have soul. It can be classical as of 1920, as of 1950, as of 1970, as of today (there is no fixed classical style, it is a moving target), it can be a penjing, it can be done by any master in any style. It must move the viewer. If it does it has soul for that viewer. The more one has experience the less trees will move you. If they do, however, they will be really good.  The unexperienced viewer is moved easier. This has NOTHING to do what style they are.

The word 'bonsai' as a derogative term I use once in a while, I admit that. Ever wondered why I speak of trees so often? But that's an entirely different discussion.

No this is at least four issues which require a separate thread.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 22, 2009, 04:15 PM
Forgot to say something about this JBP of Texas. It certainly moved me. So It has soul for me, whatever style it is. It is certainly not naturalistic at all. Anyone can see that a person has styled it and not nature. A tree can very well have lots of soul being abstract. This one attracts me because of it's maturity, and because it is not exactly according to the text-book. It is more unique than many. Although quite abstract is not one of these plastic-trees. It is indeed the best JBP that I remember having seen in America on my 30 or so trips.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 22, 2009, 04:23 PM
Now comes the original question: how to judge bonsai, especially how to judge naturalistic bonsai. I still think it is all the same, it is just subjective feeling. So what is this feeling worth? Cannot everyone have their subjective feelings? Sure they can, but others are usually not very interested in their feelings. There are those whose feelings generate a lot of interest. Those may be judges, magazine editors, organizers of conventions etc. it is the in-group. They are the powers to be. Their feelings count because they decide what is good and what is not. Whether you like it or not this is an elite thing, it is not democratic at all. The general public certainly is entitled to their very subjective opinion. But nobody cares. To boil it down: While it is a subjective feeling it all depends on who has this feeling. So let's hope the in-group has enough experience behind their feelings.
I know that this is disgusting to many. Well, don't shoot the messenger. I did not tell you whether I liked this situation. I only told you how I see it after all these years of being in and behind the scene.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Rick Moquin on October 22, 2009, 06:22 PM
Thanks for the enlightenment Walter, I thought I was seeing things wrong. Now I know to continue and trust my instincts. Nor I am too fussy with convention, and I can accept and admire all styles providing the trees move me. This takes but a glance, heightened curiosity and admiration is inspired by the illusion created by the artist. In depth study of this mystical  illusion is only accomplished once the tree has spoken to me.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 22, 2009, 07:30 PM
Judged events always end up with hurt feelings, judged events involving money break up friendships. So why in the world would anyone want to subject themselves to that kind of experience. What am I missing here, is it just old age sinicism, or another of life's lessons from experience. Please enlighten me with your opinion, I really want to know if I'm alone here. Do judged events do more for the hobby that exhibits, or the other way around, or does it matter.
keep it green
Harry
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: bonsaikc on October 22, 2009, 11:19 PM
Harry,
I think the way the judging is done means a lot. Learning to judge bonsai is at least as important as having your bonsai judged. At Bay Island Bonsai, the judging is done by the members from a group of bonsai selected by Boon. All the awards are "Members' Choice" awards and are highly coveted. And, while frustrations can be seen, on the whole it simply drives members to work harder and learn more and bring their trees to a higher level. It's amazing the change in these trees just in the last few years I have been attending them.

And, on the whole, all the members can nod and agree that the correct trees were selected, or that it was very very close. The camaraderie is amazing.

Chris
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 23, 2009, 01:22 AM
Judging shows is the prerequisite to improve quality. Read this: http://walterpallbonsaiarticles.blogspot.com/2009/10/blind-in-one-eye.html (http://walterpallbonsaiarticles.blogspot.com/2009/10/blind-in-one-eye.html)
Too many people don't want to be judged because their feelings could get hurt. Well, fine, keep on thinking your trees are great while they are amateurish.
Judging comes in many forms. It will surprise you when I say that just about EVERY bonsai exhibit is judged. How that? Well, somehow the tree that are going to be exhibited are selected from many hundreds. How does this happen? Someone will have to tell someone else which trees to take and which one to leave home and will have to give some reasons. The owners are the poorest judges for their own trees. Some feelings may get hurt that way. But it helps.
Hurting of feelings is not such a big issue in Europe; in fact it is generally not even talked about but accepted as necessary collateral damage. That may well be the reason for more quality on a broader scale.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: Walter_Pall on October 23, 2009, 04:42 AM
Pattern recognition in judging bonsai, or how bonsai taste evolves

Can you tell the difference between a conifer and a broadleaved tree just from looking at an image? Sure you can, any child can do this. Can you tell the ddifference even when the conifer grows much like a broadleaved tree would  normally and the broadleaved tee grows like a conifer? Sure you could. You see this in a split second looking at an image.
OK, now explain how exactly you made the decision. Some will succeed in giving a good explanation, some will come back wit a poor explanation and some will not bother. But all will take quite a while to articulate something that they have 'known' in a split-second.
Even though our brain knows how to do this classification, our conscious mind is often incapable of articulating the rules. Our brain is exceptionally good at this type of task. We are amazing pattern recognition machines.
Our brain has evolved to do exactly this with great accuracy. If we have a set of objects we can form internal rules by which we classify them. When you learned how to read you were shown many examples of the letter 'a'. you have learned to see the letter  'a' whether it's hand written or printed. You can tell the letter 'a' immediately even if written in bad hand writing or printed in unusual script. You can do this even when you never had seen this handwriting or this script before. But you would be hard pressed to expalain every time how you came to your conclusion.
You are very good in deciding instantly that a letter is NOT 'a'. So there must be some mechanism that enables you to do this to read texts at an enormous speed.
Recognition of abstract things is even more complex. You learn early what is good and what is bad behavior. You are given many examples in your childhood. As you grow to an adult your brain catalogs all examples of good and bad acts and at one point discovers rules of how to decide. When you get to a new situation in life that you never were in before you can instantly apply these rules. So we all have internal rules, but they differ slightly depending on how they developed. Thus we have slightly different notions about morals. These differences become striking when we meet a person who grew up in an entirely different culture and who apparently applies radically different rules for the distinction between 'good' and 'bad'.
So what has all this to do with bonsai taste? Well, exactly the same happens when we learn to appreciate bonsai. We learn that a tree that follows the bonsai rules which are written in stone it is good. When it breaks one of these rules it becomes bad. We learn that trees designed by Naka, Kimura, any great Japanese master are good. We are not content with just being told. We learn to search images of trees for patterns. We learned to see 'good' application of rules and 'bad' application. We learn to see the similarities in trees which are 'good' and we somehow create our own internal rules of how to decide. We can then judge a tree which we have never seen before. We can tell right away whether we have a piece of raw material or a masterpiece in front of us. We are not equally good at this. Some can get very far in this and become experts in judging bonsai. Mind you there was no word about CREATING bonsai here. It is all about judging from seeing. In this concept a person can be an expert judge for bonsai without ever having touched a tree.
The question now is, to what extent are we truly judging the merit of the bonsai, and to what extent are we just using our pattern-recognition skills.
Yes, some bonsai have the ability to move us emotional, to convey a message, to make us feel their 'soul'. But can we be sure that this response isn't simply a learned reaction? Appreciating a bonsai takes training. It is generally not the case that someone who has no training can appreciate and distinguish 'good' from 'bad' bonsai easily. Is it not possible that what we call artistic training is essentially training for pattern classification?
One step further now. I have trained myself to appreciate contemporary bonsai by experiencing it a lot, and if my brain is good at that sort of thing, then I'll form rules for discovering what I was told was 'good' bonsai and distinguishing it form the 'bad'. When I visit an exhibit and see the work of a new artist, I will apply my rules of 'good' and 'bad' bonsai and make my judgment on whether this artist is any good. Since most of us were trained by the same books and by similar examples of 'good' and 'bad' bonsai, our opinions will often be similar to  other bonsaiists, and the new artist will be branded accordingly.
At the same token this applies to bonsai designers. If I decide to become a bonsai master, I will judge my own work by the same abstract rules of 'good' and 'bad' and produce bonsai that pass my own criteria for judgment. Therefore, once it is established that some works are examples of good art, it almost guarantees that the pattern will be perpetuated by future artist and critics. This goes so far that a considerable number of bonsai connoisseurs and artists believe that there is only one way to do it 'right'. There is a strong tendency for fundamentalism; it is inherent in the system of how bonsai taste evolves.
Now in appreciating bonsai there is, of course, more than just pattern recognition here, but is there any way for us to ever separate the two? Normally there is no observer here from outside of the system, and we can never know to what extent our perferences are biased by the pattern-recognion training we have received in the past. But you remember the example of above when we 'knew' exactly what was morally good or bad and all of a sudden a person from another culture had a very different moral code. The question is wheter we even listen to someone who comes from another bonsai culture. If we listen, do we understand what he is saying? Probably not really, and probably we want to stay in our cozy well established and defined bonsai world rather than constantly question what we  are thinking. And we don't realize that what we think are 'natural' rules just evolved accidentally and became a generlly accepted code. But by sheer coincidence it could have become a very different code.
Can we not bring into a bonsai exhibit a person from the street who was never exposed to any bonsai or theory about them. Well, we can, but what do we expect? The person will make some judgments and will give some explanation, but they will not really tell us much more than that we have someone with a very naive taste and no background in front of us. Art form is also a language in itself, and without raining and exposure one cannot learn how to read that language.
The story is told about a person approaching Picasso and told him 'Mr. Picasso, I don't understand your art'. Picasso replied, 'do you know Chinese?'. 'No'. 'but Chinese an be learned.'
How will we ever know the true difference between elitism perpetuated through pattern recognition and the intrinsic value of a bonsai?

Adapted from: "Art and Elitism: A Form of Pattern Recognition" by
Kunal Sen, 2007, Encyclopedia Britannica blog
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: rockm on October 23, 2009, 09:14 AM
"Judging comes in many forms. It will surprise you when I say that just about EVERY bonsai exhibit is judged. How that? Well, somehow the tree that are going to be exhibited are selected from many hundreds. How does this happen? Someone will have to tell someone else which trees to take and which one to leave home and will have to give some reasons. The owners are the poorest judges for their own trees. Some feelings may get hurt that way. But it helps.
Hurting of feelings is not such a big issue in Europe; in fact it is generally not even talked about but accepted as necessary collateral damage. That may well be the reason for more quality on a broader scale."

This is the baseline to begin ANY exhibition, I believe. If you don't want an opinion (informed or uniformed--and sometimes the uninformed are the most valuable) of your trees, don't enter them in any exhibit. If you're hurt by what others think about your trees, don't enter or exhibit them. If however, you want a brutally honest opinion of your work and can use that opinion and perspective in your future work to improve, exhibit your trees.

I find it curious that people complain about politics and favoritism when their work gets "dissed." Yeah, sometimes both of those things are unfortunately part of any competition. However, I think they are rather like "boogymen" in bonsai competitions--phantoms to blame for artist shortcomings. Artists tend to be too close to their trees. They don't have the emotional separation necesssary to REALLY, TRUTHFULLY evaluate them. They are sometimes taken aback when glaringly obvious flaws are pointed out. They simply don't see them.

Most of the bonsai people I've met don't operate in back rooms, cutting "who's gonna win" deals. Most of them are pretty honest and straightforward, some even bend over backward to soothe feelings. In the cases where favoritism does raise its ugly head, consider the competition and club that's presenting it--then FIND ANOTHER CLUB and take your dues and volunteerism with you.
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: John Kirby on October 23, 2009, 09:33 AM
Mark and Walter,
Great perspectives. This thread is worth the read.

John
Title: Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
Post by: greerhw on October 23, 2009, 12:39 PM
Thanks for the comments, our small club has a "show"(exhibit) each spring with 60 to 90 "trees", no ones trees are rejected, therefore some of the trees leave a little to the imagination, The show is free to the public and we will draw approximately 300 guests with all kinds of questions, it's a fun weekend. We have about 3 demo's and they will draw about 10 people. we have picked up most of our members this way. When I'm working the floor, people will invariably ask who won, I guess next year I will have to go buy a blue ribbon and put it on one of my trees.... ;)

keep it green,
Harry