Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: Rkovo on November 25, 2012, 01:10 PM

Title: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Rkovo on November 25, 2012, 01:10 PM
I am hoping to stir up a debate here on the forums,

Most people think in order to become a Bonsai professional, one must give up just about everything and move to the island country of Japan, and study under a "master". I follow many different blogs, some of professionals, some amateurs, and many apprentices.

My question to everyone is, Can someone become a professional without studying in Japan?


If any of you read any of the many blogs, Peter Tea was just told by Mr. Tanaka that his apprenticeship was nearing completion after just two years even though he was planning for a several more, while other bloggers I read are approaching year 7. Peter gives major credit to Boon for readying him for Japan.

I know that much of the apprenticeship is based on the knowledge of masters, masters, master passed down generationally for probably thousands of years, but with the technology we have today, sharing the information has never been been easier.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: dre on November 25, 2012, 01:26 PM
that an easy one you could become a master in the usa in this day an age by apprenticing under a master that live here in the usa there are many of them or you could just do as nick lenz has done made a name for himself and he and his work are known all round the work
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: cbobgo on November 25, 2012, 01:42 PM
I think most would consider Brent Walston to have a master's level of bonsai knowledge, but he never apprenticed under anyone.

There's always more than 1 way to do everything.  Studying in Japan is certainly a great way to learn it, but there are certainly other ways.

- bob
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: dre on November 25, 2012, 01:44 PM
if theres a will theres a way
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: MatsuBonsai on November 25, 2012, 03:08 PM
There are a lot of people out there that call themselves professionals and make the rounds in the teaching circuit giving out bad advice.  Unfortunately it's difficult to know who knows their stuff and who is just reciting from books.

I'm all for supporting bonsai professionals in the US.  It just so happens those that I believe to be good have been (or are being) trained in Japan.

Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: William N. Valavanis on November 25, 2012, 03:59 PM
This topic interest me, having attempted to become a professional bonsai artist, educator and scholar.

Drive, passion and exposure, are, perhaps more important than who one studies with in the bonsai world. But, it just so happens that if one has those three attributes, they end up in Japan to study with those who have excelled with bonsai. And, they too have drive, passion and exposure.

Remember, the bonsai artists in Japan ARE exposed to many more bonsai than those outside of Japan. They see lots of trees which they can study, they attend many exhibitions (usually with over one hundred quality bonsai which have been in training for longer than the artist has been alive) and they have the opportunity to work on trees with guidance from those with decades of first hand experience which have been handed down from their teachers.

It is also important to realize that there are different levels of bonsai in Japan. Although there are many professionals here, some Japanese bonsai artists are not as talented as some westerners. Exposure is important.

A Japanese bonsai scholar, who talented, skilled and well known as an award winner of masterpieces once said that to create a fine-quality bonsai requires only 20% talent and 80% is dependent on the plant material. I guess it's "garbage in, garbage out." However it requires real talent to determine what is garbage and what is not. Some can easily see a specimen and determine what they can do to the plant material, and that depends on their experience and what they have seen.

By the way, IF one is a professional bonsai artist in the west, can one make a living at the art on only in the bonsai world? Studying bonsai in Japan, mastering the Japanese language and having a horticultural degree does not guarantee that one can make a living at only bonsai...

By the way, Japanese bonsai are not the only style of bonsai to study. I wonder why there are not many westerners who travel to China to study…
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: dre on November 25, 2012, 08:15 PM
William N. Valavanis what happened that you were not able to become a bonsai professional there the means of studying in japan. cause lets use you as an example you may have not completed a study in japan but your are a bonsai professional and it's been told to me that your japanese tour you do are one of the best as you know many people in japan and make it a very unique experience
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Yenling83 on November 26, 2012, 12:25 PM
With anyone I study with, I’d make sure to see the quality of trees in their backyard and want to know that either they worked on them, or their students worked on them.  I’d also prefer to see what type of work the teachers students are putting out. 

I feel that to become a professional in the U.S. you should either put in some time apprenticing in Japan or learn from one of the small handful of people who have already studied in Japan.  If you don’t apprentice in Japan I feel you should start out charging less than someone who has apprenticed until your talent and reputation can surpass the other pros.  Either way it’s not just about apprenticing, but more so about the quality of work-with that said the people I would most want to study from right now who are currently in the U.S. would be Boon, Michael and Ryan.  Peter is also super talented and would be a fantastic person to learn from starting after June 2013.     
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Rkovo on November 26, 2012, 04:03 PM
Yenling

My plan is definetly take classes from Peter.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Jay on November 26, 2012, 05:23 PM
Yenling, all those you mention would be good..... But may I add a couple of names to this 'wish' list of teachers.

Bill for sure. As well as Suthin and David Easterbrook. The quality of work that these individuals have is mind blowing. For many reasons I can not look for an apprenticeship but if one was available with one of the above and you could get it, you would be in very good hands

My two cents
Jay
With anyone I study with, I’d make sure to see the quality of trees in their backyard and want to know that either they worked on them, or their students worked on them.  I’d also prefer to see what type of work the teachers students are putting out. 

I feel that to become a professional in the U.S. you should either put in some time apprenticing in Japan or learn from one of the sall handful of people who have already studied in Japan.  If you don’t apprentice in Japan I feel you should start out charging less than someone who has apprenticed until your talent and reputation can surpass the other pros.  Either way it’s not just about apprenticing, but more so about the quality of work-with that said the people I would most want to study from right now who are currently in the U.S. would be Boon, Michael and Ryan.  Peter is also super talented and would be a fantastic person to learn from starting after June 2013.     

Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: thuan L. on November 26, 2012, 07:11 PM
"My question to everyone is, Can someone become a professional without studying in Japan?"

YES!

Great thread! Here are my thoughts, would you not agree bonsai is a combination of horticultural skills and artistic talent? One can learn all the "secret" bonsai techniques of the Japanese masters and gain valuable experience from Japan but artistic talent cannot be taught. Also someone can have all the bonsai knowledge and artistic talent but lack the ability to teach which renders them less efficient. I commend all the artists that have gone and studied in Japan but like the old saying "theres more than one way to skin a cat" Just my two cents!
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: William N. Valavanis on November 26, 2012, 08:08 PM
What IS a professional?

All "professional" means is that someone is charging or selling for their services. It does NOT have anything to do with quality. I believe there are professional athletes which are not good. And that also applies to school teachers and college professors, which I'm sure people have encountered their lives.

I know several amateur bonsai hobbyists who can run circles around many of the professional bonsai teachers now teaching and selling bonsai.

Bill
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: John Kirby on November 26, 2012, 08:21 PM
Shall we revisit the art vs craft conversations again?

Anyone who doesn't think that Bill V is a professional bonsai artist is, well, confused.

i think the salient point from Bill's initial post is the difficulty in making a living solely from professional bonsai activities. Hence the old adage, "How do you end up with a Million Dollars from Bonsai? Start with $2million."

The Japanese trained guys (no gals yet?) have the opportunity to learn and master profound technical tools, that when coupled with artistic vision, can give them profound skills. Those of us who have been around for a while have seen Japanese trained Americans who come back with no discernible bonsai skills, and some come back and erode.

Anyway, in the US we are stuck with traveling artists/professionals who are asked to hack some poor piece of material up and then watch as it is raffled of to someone who may or may not be able to do whatever next step that needs to be done.

Off my soapbox.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Elliott on November 26, 2012, 10:28 PM
I think first you have to define what a bonsai pro is. Lets say for the sake of argument, that a bonsai pro is someone who is getting by making a living by teaching bonsai.
 I think that for the moment, it's very hard to make a living just teaching bonsai if you have not done an apprenticeship. Although there are some who are able to do it currently.
 In the future, if and when bonsai gets more popular and the demand for information surpasses what the people who studied in Japan can offer (there are only so many hours in a day) than those who have completed an apprenticeship under an American "master" such as Ryan and the others coming out of Japan. May be able to also make a living without study time in Japan.
 But we need to start spending our $ on the current pros and creating higher standards for what we allow to go on our show bench. I think the current trend with the Rochester show, the Artisan's cup and the Golden state bonsai association's addition of a Judged show at there convention's are a good way to step up our game and create a need for the bonsai pro.                                                    
 Also. before we can start supporting more bonsai pros, we need to look at the Japanese and European model. Over in Japan and Europe, it is very common for someone to exhibit a tree that they did not create. It is not a stigma to show somebody Else's work. It's like buying an expensive painting and showing it in an art gallery. The tag will say artist and owner. Most cases in Japan, artist and owner are not the same. Some people over there own many famous trees and don't even water them. They are kept at nurseries tended to by the pros and there students.
 Over here, I have noticed it's very common for somebody to buy a tree, do some light work on it, put in a show and take all the credit for it. THAT, I don't agree with and it's not what I'm talking about.
 Probably rite now the easiest way to make a living off of bonsai is through a bonsai related business, such as a nursery, but does not make you a pro.
 On a club level, paying the people you ask to come out and do a demo as much as the club can afford, will also incease the general economy of bonsai and encourage more people to invest in an education in bonsai. Many clubs are still paying what they paid for a demo 30 years ago and have not even considered a cost of living increase. Such shortsightedness keeps bonsai as a mom n pop Hobie and not the wonderful art form it is.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Owen Reich on November 27, 2012, 05:38 AM
I feel John's point about material quality is important.  Yengling's statement about seeing a given pro's work is too. 

The whole business of demonstrations I feel needs to be re-evaluated; not saying I can't / won't do them.  It is unfair to the pro and plant at times.  Going from rough stock to a presentable bonsai takes longer than 4-6 hours. 

Do you need to study in Japan to be a pro?  No.  It certainly doesn't hurt though for the reasons Bill V. mentioned (exposure to 1000's of bonsai and instruction by a skilled sensei).   Just studying in Japan doesn't make you "good".   

Does the given person enjoy teaching and have good communication skills?  Are they full of $#!¥ when answering scientific questions?  Are they striving for artistic expression no matter the form?  What of their reputation for keeping bonsai not just alive, but healthy?   I say all this as a pro in the making without a long track record of teaching yet.  These are things I wanted from pros or opinions I held when I was still a "civilian"  :). 

Looking forward to proving myself worthy of the mantle of pro.  One final thought is the matter of specialization.  One way I feel the quality bar can be raised is by focused work on a given realm of bonsai, and teaching it.  To some extent this is already happening.  Hopefully it will continue.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Marc on November 27, 2012, 07:08 AM
"The Japanese trained guys (no gals yet?"

Kathy Shaner might disagree...

Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Elliott on November 27, 2012, 02:28 PM
Owen, the demo's I'm talking about that clubs should increase the amount they pay for are not the huge productions that are often have pro photographers followed by pictorial in bonsai focus which usualy occur at a big show in Europe or something. Yeah, often a great piece of raw yamadori is wrapped up like a mummy at the wrong time of the year, bent like a pretzel on acid, and if it lives or dies, is almost besides the point because it was just done for entertainment.
 What I mean is the monthly program most of our local bonsai clubs have. Usualy its a tree and it may be it's first styling or second one or the subject may be on repotting or pots or a powerpoint presentation on somebodies vacation to Japan.
 Clubs should pay the most they can afford because it's a small part of a bigger picture where it is getting possible to make a living with bonsai. The more money to be made, the better quality of the trees. That has been proven
In Japan and Europe.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: John Kirby on November 27, 2012, 04:28 PM
Marc. Touche, I really blew that one. And Cheryl Manning, but what us an oversight or three. Let the beatings commence.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Anthony on December 01, 2012, 05:39 AM
Interesting topic.

I wish Mr. Valavanis would say more, as I believe he trained under a very individual Bonsai master, as what is seen in the book, Four Seasons of Bonsai, is also a very high standard, and very individual.

For the tropics, Southernmost China, might be better, however for the island of Trindad/Tobago, you would be wasting your time if looking for some form of employment, with trained trees.
We still have too much green and forests/jungles are all too easy to fall into.
As a friend explained to me, living in an apartment in a large city, parks don't quite give that feeling of nature and growing Bonsai takes on a different level.

Professional, is usually a term used along with sales.

Perhaps the word that needs to be used is Vocation, along with a level of skill/creativity appreciated by others who are universally accepted as masters?

Anyhow, I often wonder if the the truly gifted in Bonsai/Penjing, just live quiet lives, and their work speaks for them.

Action always speaks louder than words, so the proof of ability is in the seen examples?
Anthony
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: JJR on December 05, 2012, 11:20 PM
What do you mean by 'under a very individual bonsai master'?
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Anthony on December 06, 2012, 03:52 AM
JJR,

Mr.Murata's work in the Four Seasons book displays attractive work, that is not run of the mill.
Just as Titian stands out amongst the great Venetian painters,as a great oil painter.
Hope this explains.
Anthony
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: rockm on December 06, 2012, 01:33 PM
I believe Mr. Valavanis trained under Yuji Yushimura, not Murata...
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Marc on December 06, 2012, 07:20 PM

Actually, he studied with Kyuzo Murata in Japan before studing with Yuji Yoshimura in the USA. Bill also studied with several
other teachers in Japan, broadening his expertise further yet. His thirst for Bonsai knowledge continues even though he is one of the most knowledgeable in the world!Bill has devoted his life to sharing both his passion and knowledge of Bonsai with the world.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: John Kirby on December 07, 2012, 11:57 AM
Traveling with Bill to Japan was a lot of fun, for his knowledge and history, but also for the gracious way he was received by his many long time friends. If you get a chance to go with Bill on one of his guided trips, it is a great introduction. If you go, don't tell Kora that you know me or mention my name, I cannot be responsible for the outcome.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: GastroGnome on December 09, 2012, 09:45 AM
Marc is right, even though he goofed on me once for being obsessed with pots ;-)
I do believe Bill was the first American Apprentice in Japan, and I think his studies of Ikebana and his constant exposure to Great bonsai have given him a love of odd and unusual bonsai, this seems a common response to constant exposure. 
I think we seem to be confusing the issue here semantically.  What is a professional: someone who earns the principle portion of their living doing a given thing.  By this definition, there are many bonsai professionals, though less than a handful make a decent living doing ONLY bonsai and bonsai related biz.  Is a bonsai farmer(stock producer) a bonsai professional?  Hell yes.  And the lack of them is one of the principle reasons we lag. 
I think we're confusing the term bonsai professional with Bonsai Artist.  I'm a chef, and I work with food, and I'm pretty damn good at it.  A chef is a professional cook.  But then there are guys like Grant Achatz who are capital C Chefs, food artists who do things I couldn't dream.  What makes a Bonsai Artist, or a capital C Chef?  It's not an apprenticeship(although Achatz did apprentice with best of his time), it's not making money, it's the communities opinion of you.  Only someone else can say you're a great artist, or a great Chef.  Anything else is hubris(is he here?)
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Anthony on December 09, 2012, 11:27 AM
As long as the person is honest, -------------- I grow bonsai to sell, this is a profession, I studied bonsai in the apropriate situation [ i.e an acknowledged teacher [ acknowledged by other know teachers ]] I have no problems.

Bonsai Artist, would be a title from other members of a Bonsai Guild.

Joe Average would probably think it is a pretty tree.
Afternoon to you all.
Anthony.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: William N. Valavanis on December 09, 2012, 03:14 PM
Sorry, I was NOT the first American bonsai apprentice in Japan, but am the first in several other aspects of bonsai. I was fortunate to apprentice with Murata and Komuro in Japan during the period of 1970-1972.

I believe Chase Rosade studied with Kyozo Yoshida in Nara, Japan in the early 1960s. Then Lynn Perry Alstadt studied on weekends with Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village in the early 1960s too, while she worked at the American Embassy Agriculture Department.

There have been many others since me, and there are numerous contemporary American and foreign apprentices throughout Japan now. In fact, there are so many, I often wonder why the Japanese have opened their gardens to teach foreigners. Is it because they want to share their knowledge and skill with foreigners, OR is it because it's becoming increasingly difficult to get young Japanese to become apprentices.

By the way, originally the Japanese bonsai artists would send their sons to other Japanese bonsai artists to train. It was kind of a "closed group," with artists training each others sons, very rarely outsiders.

For example, each of these artists are (or were) professional bonsai artists in Japan: Komatsu sent his son to Murata; Urushibata sent his son to Kimura; Oshima sent his son to Suzuki, Toshinori; Tanaka sent his son to Suzuki, Toru; Suzuki, Shinji's son is currently studying with Kimura.

Bill
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: bigDave on December 09, 2012, 07:05 PM
 
Very interesting Bill

Also one who blazed a trail and had a great nursery and career in bonsai was Carl Young who was a Californian.  I know you knew him.


He was a bit before his time and in the internet age would have made a fortune on plant sales I think.
He studied in Japan for 20 years if I remember how he told it. Starting in the 40's

Miss that ole curmudgeon

Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Anthony on December 10, 2012, 06:46 AM
Thank you very much Mr.Valvanis for replying.

On the point on Apprentices and Apprenticeships, the working model is one goes to study with a master and the master pays you while you study there, with food, or clothing or other.

When you end up paying the master that is better termed as school and you are a student. The limits here, are you go and are instructed, not sweep anyones' yard or weed his plants or wire his trees.
With this situation all you have is as we call it - a smartman way - of getting free labour and some fool to also pay for it.

If it is being offered then what will normally happen is you will want your money back and to forget the humilation of being a maid or yardman.
I can see why in the OR part of what you typed, the Japanese youth -- may -- be backing off from training as Bonsai folk.

With the size of China for example and all the voices speaking in one general note, a Chinese person returning home with Western ideas, would be as a sore thumb.
So when folk start to realise that they - might - be ripped off as apprentices, because Western ideas start to filter in, they will most - possibly - rebel.

My friend only just realised yesterday, that the original use of the trees and stones, might have been to allow the mind to relax and dream, in dreaming, new ideas and solutions could be found, but while one is awake.
This might explain in the Ancient Chinese paintings, the simplicity of the trees as opposed to what is seen today.

It is explained that the value of a stone to the Ancient Chinese Scholars was often simply who had owned it previously.
To touch the past.
Good Morning.
Anthony

Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: JDNeessen on December 16, 2012, 11:17 AM
This thread is interesting.  I've been taking courses at my local nursery for about 6 years and have been thinking about next steps since I'd like advance my knowledge and skill level.  Has there ever been any serious talk about developing a undergraduate or graduate level degree or certificate program at an art school or some of the state agricultural schools that have strong art programs and has a reputable nursery nearby?  There is so much to learn in terms of horticulture and the art form of bonsai that a longer term program with the regular structure of a degree/certificate program might be a good way to master some of the content in terms of botany/ horticulture and to practice the artistic "sculpting" of bonsai material.

This is coming from someone who works in higher education, so maybe I'm just biased, but not everyone can travel to Japan to study for long periods of time, but traveling in the states is more doable.  Some of the masters here in the states could teach some great courses at local schools about bonsai and the longer term structure of a semester could make for some interesting work on trees giving you the opportunity to see the progression of your material over the course of the program.

A program like this at a school where there is a nearby reputable bonsai nursery could make for an interesting student experience with an opportunity to learn a lot.  Courses could include botany, horticulture, sculpture, history of bonsai and penjing, various technique courses, pottery, nursery management, styling, display, etc.  

I think it could make for a very interesting program.  It might not be like living at a nursery, but could provide some long term structure to learning bonsai that I know I'd benefit from.  Also, if it had a good enough collection of masters teaching and students turned out strong work, graduates could leave the program with a level of credibility that could help pursue the art.  
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: nathanbs on December 16, 2012, 12:22 PM
It's a great idea however it's very difficult in my opinion to set up a coarse like that because it is arguably just for fun as it is very difficult to make a living as a bonsai artist. Wait a minute I guess it's hard to make a living as any artist and there is still plenty of college art classes available. ???
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: John Romano on December 16, 2012, 12:34 PM

I believe Chase Rosade studied with Kyozo Yoshida in Nara, Japan in the early 1960s. Then Lynn Perry Alstadt studied on weekends with Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village in the early 1960s too, while she worked at the American Embassy Agriculture Department.



Bill, A few years back I was teaching a bonsai class and had Yuji Yoshimura's daughter in the class.  Humbling to say the least.  I also had Lynn Perry Alstadt and her daughter in a couple of my classes - the circle goes ever onward.  Again, humbling to say the least.  Lynn's book is occasionally listed on ebay for sale.  We often forget the women who have been pioneers in this art, at least here in the US.
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: William N. Valavanis on December 16, 2012, 12:40 PM
John, that's great about Yuji's daughter and Lynn Perry Alstadt! Both were my teachers.

As far as bonsai pioneer women go, don't forget about Ernesta Ballard, Connie Derderian, Dorothy Young and of course, Marion Gyllenswan. Each of these fine ladies played a significant role of American Bonsai.

Bill
Title: Re: Professional Bonsai Debate
Post by: Anthony on December 16, 2012, 01:15 PM
Hmm to study design at that level might take about 2 or 3 years, mostly because you have to become familiar the actual practice. Might I suggest - Notes on the science of picture making - C.J.Holmes

Additionally, you may have to have access to very high grade [ well and finely branched] Bonsai.

Or just go and study with Mr.Valavanis.
Good Afternoon.
Anthony