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Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven

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bonsaikc:
Vision of My Soul, 2nd Edition
By Robert Steven
Edited by Andy Rutledge
Suprindo Offset Printing, Indonesia, 2007 166pp

I've been spending some time with Robert Steven's first excellent work lately. I'm not a big fan of collecting beautifully bound or first-edition books. Some people live for this, others enjoy it, and that's fine for them. For my money, though, the only value of a book as such is the information and message conveyed therein. That's what stands the test of time.

I've read other reviews of this book from the adorers (Will Heath and Rick Moquin) to those with a less idealistic view (unnamed). These were all reviews of the limited first edition with the special silver-leaf binding, and as such, a portion of their reviews were about the book itself as a work of art. The second edition is softback, and while still a handsome book, much of the distraction of the "coffee-table book" nature of the first edition has been done away with. This suits my temperament perfectly. Let's look at the content without all the distraction.

The first section of the book deals with the artistic principles seen in so many books for aspiring artists with a couple of very helpful, if brief, additions:

    * Line
    * Form
    * Texture
    * Color
    * Dimension
    * Composition
    * Perspective
    * Anatomical balance
    * Optical balance
    * Objective/subjective
    * Value of interest

I would wish that more effort had been spent on this portion of the book. Obviously, line, form, texture and the like have been treated ad infinitum in art student's textbooks over the years. But I would have thought that "anatomical balance," "objective v. subjective," and "value of interest" should have added at least eight pages to the overall work, if not sixteen. Nevertheless they are helpful and recommended.

This book would be worth the price of purchase for the gallery section alone. Robert Steven's trees are beautifully presented, designed with a great deal of artistic sensitivity, and all seem to present an image beyond "bonsai tree." In each tree's presentation, we see the image, a short description of the tree and how it uses his design principles, and a small image of the foliage of the tree, over a background which includes what appears to be a life sized representation of that foliage. I would have liked to see a layout with less white space on the page, but artistic and layout considerations vary by the author's and editor's preferences.

"Studio" is definitely the heart of this book, building on "Aesthetic Elements of Bonsai Art." Of course, a fuller treatment of that subject would be in the offing in Mr. Steven's second book, "Mission of Transformation." I will be reviewing that book in a follow-up review. In this section, the artist shows works in progress and how they will be trained in the future. I especially appreciated his discussion of windswept as a style.


--- Quote ---"Windswept style is not well represented simply by a slanting tree with all branches growing in one direction. Rather, it should suggest that the wind is blowing;...Windswept is one of the most impressive styles in bonsai, requiring the highest level of technical skill plus a strong understanding of nature. It is very difficult to achieve a convincing windswept style bonsai without first having mastered sufficient technique.Basic bonsai styling convention alone is not enough to portray the physical character and drama of a windswept bonsai."
--- End quote ---

This kind of discussion is absolutely essential in any book discussing the art of bonsai. How else will those who are on the cusp of moving from hobbyist and copyist expand their horizons into the realm of producing art?

Robert Steven is an artist of the first order. Once one has gotten past the hype of the limited first edition, his book proves that he can be a teacher of the first order, too.

akeppler:
Interesting review. I recieved my copy signed, no.657/1500 in 2005. That seems like eons ago in bonsai time. While I think the book(in it's first edition, bound beautifully, is a work of art) the material contained within are no more educational than John Naka's "Bonsai Techniques II" written almost 30 years ago. I find both rather dated especially since Vision Of My Soul was only written 5 years ago.

Ahh well...subjectivity...gotta love it.

Thanks for the plug about Nee Hai bonsai in your unnamed link! I do know who wrote that review, you would like him. He was a poster at BT years ago but became disillusioned with the forums as many of old timers have.

Al

Rick Moquin:
Great review Chris.

Although the pizazz of the limited edition was worth the purchase price, I believe it was the content as described that made it priceless:

I finally received my copy of Robert's work as a birthday present. I believe only one word truly describes this work "powerful".

"On its root I firmly commit
In its trunk I keep my soul
Through its leaves, I reflect my vision..."

This masterpiece is a limited edition print signed by the artist. The attention to detail from beginning to end is phenomenal. The layout and thoughtfulness of its creation is second to none: from the handcrafted cover with silver leaf inlay; plethora of sketches and colour plates; to the easily understood artistic impressions conveyed by the author; this book was described in another review as a work of art and I can only echo the sentiments of that particular review. The combination of these two aspects makes this book extremely valuable in my opinion.

Works without soul, are mere objects on, or of any given medium. Understanding the basics towards an end is a great foundation in assisting the individual reach his/her goal. If the individual fails to portray the passion from deep within, and merely designing from the mind instead of the soul, then he/she is just creating "something".

True passion is not a mechanical process but one that evokes response. I guess other folks call this talent, but one can have talent without evoking passion, the true artist has both in my opinion.

I was fortunate enough to have acquired Robert's book and I am looking forward to the publishing of his second. No amount of reviews can accurately describe the contents of his work, nor convey the message held within. Although a book is classified as "literature" this volume is anything but, it is in a sense a work of art. Why? Because the book has the ability to move you. The author has managed to evoke deep seeded passions in the written word that, in my opinion, others fail miserably to achieve, art is felt not seen.

In closing for those who naturally possess artistic impressionistic talents, this work may well be of little value. However, for the multitudes that are struggling with the aforementioned required elements in Bonsai, it is a much-needed reference to one's literary collection.

Edit:The link provided takes you to a review of his second book

bonsaikc:

--- Quote from: akeppler on January 03, 2010, 03:36 PM ---Interesting review. I recieved my copy signed, no.657/1500 in 2005. That seems like eons ago in bonsai time. While I think the book(in it's first edition, bound beautifully, is a work of art) the material contained within are no more educational than John Naka's "Bonsai Techniques II" written almost 30 years ago. I find both rather dated especially since Vision Of My Soul was only written 5 years ago.

Ahh well...subjectivity...gotta love it.

Thanks for the plug about Nee Hai bonsai in your unnamed link! I do know who wrote that review, you would like him. He was a poster at BT years ago but became disillusioned with the forums as many of old timers have.

Al

--- End quote ---

Al,
I'd agree to an extent, but there are some things in this book (especially in the Gallery section) that are new and worth having. I'm sure I would like the person who wrote that review, especially with the style in which they wrote it. It reminds me of some humorous stuff, almost as if the stories had been plagiarized....but I do like the writing style and the command of the Queen's English. Please PM me and enlighten me!

Chris

Rick Moquin:

--- Quote from: bonsaikc on January 03, 2010, 08:44 PM ---
--- Quote from: akeppler on January 03, 2010, 03:36 PM ---Interesting review. I recieved my copy signed, no.657/1500 in 2005. That seems like eons ago in bonsai time. While I think the book(in it's first edition, bound beautifully, is a work of art) the material contained within are no more educational than John Naka's "Bonsai Techniques II" written almost 30 years ago. I find both rather dated especially since Vision Of My Soul was only written 5 years ago.

Ahh well...subjectivity...gotta love it.

Thanks for the plug about Nee Hai bonsai in your unnamed link! I do know who wrote that review, you would like him. He was a poster at BT years ago but became disillusioned with the forums as many of old timers have.

Al

--- End quote ---

Al,
I'd agree to an extent, but there are some things in this book (especially in the Gallery section) that are new and worth having. I'm sure I would like the person who wrote that review, especially with the style in which they wrote it. It reminds me of some humorous stuff, almost as if the stories had been plagiarized....but I do like the writing style and the command of the Queen's English. Please PM me and enlighten me!

Chris

--- End quote ---

... and I believe that is the pitfall of many, where their works is subject to involvement rather than content. What i find amusing is the total dismissal of anything art related in what we do. Mind you I do not care for the word art either. I prefer aesthetically pleasing. I do not do art perse but in even if objects I have created (woodwork) they are all aesthetically pleasing. Why? Because they are balanced. Fubenacci's equation is the foundation on which everything evolves or is built. Years a go I didn't know who the heck Fubbenaci was let alone that he had an equation of 2/3. But I have come to find out that this equation can relate to all aspects of life, let alone the artistic world, or bonsai. Alot of times we can place our finger on what doesn't work with X, apply the principle and it stands out like a sore thumb.

That's what I found amusing with review X, the foul taste that was left was the culmination of a personal opinion of disdain towards a person. Where was the objectivity?

The shear reference that the mingling of 2 cultures into one aspect is not avant guarde, hmmmmmmm. I guess Walter is a nobody as well, since he has broken away from the pact with the "naturalistic style"

At the end of the day like the late John said: Make your bonsai look like tree, not your tree look like bonsai.

IMO regardless what style, or medium is used in achieving the end, it is the end result that counts.

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