Author Topic: judging bonsai for bwaynef  (Read 14600 times)

MatsuBonsai

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #60 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
« Last Edit: October 22, 2009, 01:35 PM by MatsuBonsai »
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #61 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.

 

Walter_Pall

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #62 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.
 

Walter_Pall

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #63 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.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2009, 04:24 PM by Walter_Pall »
 

Walter_Pall

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #64 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.
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #65 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.
 

greerhw

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #66 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
 

bonsaikc

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #67 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
 

Walter_Pall

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #68 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
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.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2009, 01:23 AM by Walter_Pall »
 

Walter_Pall

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #69 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
 

rockm

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #70 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.
 

John Kirby

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #71 on: October 23, 2009, 09:33 AM »
Mark and Walter,
Great perspectives. This thread is worth the read.

John
 

greerhw

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Re: judging bonsai for bwaynef
« Reply #72 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