Author Topic: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven  (Read 11058 times)

bonsaikc

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Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« on: January 03, 2010, 02:37 PM »
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."

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.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2010, 02:41 PM by bonsaikc »
 

akeppler

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #1 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
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2010, 03:48 PM »
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
« Last Edit: January 03, 2010, 04:22 PM by Rick Moquin »
 

bonsaikc

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2010, 08:44 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

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

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2010, 09:04 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

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

... 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.
 

akeppler

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2010, 01:40 AM »
Well Rick I have no idea what your point was...(all over the place, from Naka quotes to Walter, to Fibbonaci ) but I digress.

If I may be so bold as to offer a couple of my opinions about books. I have a lot. Let me rephrase that. I have had a lot. I am down to about 25 or so now. I have had as many as over 75 books on bonsai at one time or another during the course of study. The one thing all the books I have ever had except those that dealy with only pictures like Kokufu books is that they always deal with bonsai in the past tense.

Vision of my Soul is just the most recent...errr Mission of Transformation that deals with bonsai in the past tense. What is needed is a book on bonsai that deals with future in bonsai. What do I mean by past tense...well like Tuesday morning quarterbacking. On Tuesday everyone is a pro. This is what he should have done, this is what I would have done, if he had done this...etc.

Anyone that has showed a tree, designed a bonsai, read a 100 books,etc.etc. can look at most any tree and tell you why it works or what could be done to improve it. It is not hard to apply the rule of thirds, ( Fibbonaci sequence ) to most anything in everyday life. This is not anything ground breaking or earth shattering. The human eye left to it's own accord will do just a good of job on it's own. A sense of harmony for shape and form is born into us at the moment of conception. There is a reason why women have such lovely curves and bulges! This sense for what is beautiful and harmonious is a trait we are born with and helps perpetuate the species.  

As I study more and more about the works of Keido (Japanese art of formal display) I am taken with the Japanese idea that the human eye alone is what will find items arranged the most pleasing. While the work of Willi Benz goes on to give us a primer on display, it also does a disservice by focusing too much energy of making sure a display is set to a set of measuring rules rather than what looks pleasing to the eye. What can we do to develop this "eye" to what is the best way to make a tree or set a display? Well this is what needs to be written about. Problem is making a book with the simple words "Practise, Practise, Practise" does not make  for a very large book.

Being in a trade whereby I work with my hands (carpenter) I can tell you that practise is the way to superiority. When I began making bonsai stands I wasn't very good at it. I had the basics, could cut and glue the wood, but had no sense of proportion or asthetics of what made a stand look good. After building about 85 stands I can honestly say that practise makes perfect. Once again there is not a book on the planet that could have helped me in that journey to make stands the way I do now.

I have worked side by side of some of the most gifted artists in the world. One thing I have noticed about the way almost everyone I have ever seen is that for the most part they design bonsai by the seat of their pants. I have asked Kenji Miyata about designing trees on paper, he laughs, says that "blueprint is for building Shrine". For instance what if a tree is sketched on paper to fullfill every aspect of perfect design ideals and the rule of thirds. What if a branch breaks during bending or a branch does not quite bend to the appropriate area to fullfill the design needs. Do we scrap the whole tree based on this failure of execution? No we let it grow a year or two and come back and salvage what the tree has given us at this new moment. No need to look back, we will never have "that" opportunity again. Except in a book...haha.

Books for the writer fullfill two needs....ego...and money. Not necessarily in that order.

Books for the reader fullfill two needs, inspiration...and the hopes in finally buying the Holy grail only to find out it's all been written before.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2010, 01:46 AM by akeppler »
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2010, 09:32 AM »
Al,

There is absolutely no doubt that experience cannot be found in a book, but the foundation blocks are and, the latter is not specifically applied to bonsai. You will never get an argument from me wrt that.

There is absolutely no doubt nor argument that one on one teaching is the way to go. But the knowledge imparted to any given audience on any given subject came from a book at some point in time. You cannot possibly deny that.

You are right all books are past tense. Where was the objectivity in review X? It was transparent that the reviewer had absolutely no use for Andy Rutledge, which in turn might have clouded his objectivity. The book is about the artistic side of bonsai. Personally I don't care who was involved with it. Did/does the medium get the point across to the reader. If yes, then the author reached his audience and got his point across, regardless who the editor was.

The reference to Walter and Naka:

Review X stated there was nothing new or innovative with Robert's style (melding the Japanese and Chinese influence together). In doing so did he not brake away from tradition not dissimilar to what Walter did with his naturalistic approach. That's why Walter was used as an example. John Naka is self explanatory.

Both books are about the artistic side of bonsai. So if the book was able to impart artistic knowledge and design to a person, what is more important the medium used or the end result? How many trees have you seen that were designed according to convention? As I, I bet many. Where branch X is where it is supposed to be etc, branch Y is where it is supposed to be etc, etc... the result a design that leaves us flat as the tree is a manufactured thing vice the representation of a living thing, in miniature.

Fubunaci's equation encompasses everything we see or do in our daily lives. It is something we never gave a second thought about or even cared to label it. It is either aesthetically pleasing or it is not, and if it is not then, when applying the principle "the subject" usually falls out of the equation/norm more often than not. But his equation is not limited to art perse, it is seen is every aspect of our daily functions.

You are a woodworker, as I. When we design something out of the blue for the first time, what principles or guidelines do we use? Is it important? Yes it is important, or else the object of our creation is/would appear unbalanced. This is evident to us when we draw the prototype (cheaper than fabricating the prototype), hence why many choose to draw to scale, vice a mere sketch. The sketch is an idea, the scaled drawing the plan...

We may think that we need to please the eye, but we would be wrong in making that assumption. The eye is nothing more than a camera lens, which in turn transmits a focal point to the brain where it is then compared against a vast data bank held there. Although it might be pleasing or not to the eye, it is the brain that decides what is or isn't and, how is that decided? By the information contained in our storage boxes for the lack of a better word. The information acquired through reading, viewing, teaching etc... the brain in turn then transmits lessons learned.

In turn it is the brain that will transmit the knowledge talent and experience gained from the storage bank to the hands to execute the work and, the camera lens re-transmit the focal point against the data bank once again for comparison etc, etc, etc...

Quote
Being in a trade whereby I work with my hands (carpenter) I can tell you that practise is the way to superiority. When I began making bonsai stands I wasn't very good at it. I had the basics, could cut and glue the wood, but had no sense of proportion or asthetics of what made a stand look good. After building about 85 stands I can honestly say that practise makes perfect. Once again there is not a book on the planet that could have helped me in that journey to make stands the way I do now.

What did you change in your journey? What made you change things during that journey? What led to the improvements, and why did you put them into practice? Where did the information come from? So you built a better mouse trap, that's innovation, but if the fundamentals of mouse trap building are not understood, in all honesty how can you say that your new and improved mouse trap is better than mouse trap X.

Quote
I have worked side by side of some of the most gifted artists in the world. One thing I have noticed about the way almost everyone I have ever seen is that for the most part they design bonsai by the seat of their pants. I have asked Kenji Miyata about designing trees on paper, he laughs, says that "blueprint is for building Shrine". For instance what if a tree is sketched on paper to fullfill every aspect of perfect design ideals and the rule of thirds. What if a branch breaks during bending or a branch does not quite bend to the appropriate area to fullfill the design needs. Do we scrap the whole tree based on this failure of execution? No we let it grow a year or two and come back and salvage what the tree has given us at this new moment. No need to look back, we will never have "that" opportunity again. Except in a book...haha.

... and through shear repetition (experience) they do not need a reference, their references are in their heads. That being said how did it get there? They are using a mental template stored in their brain and transmitted to the tree. Where does that mental image come from? You know you may look at a tree for days on end, and try and duplicate said tree, the image our eyes see, but without a foundation on "how to" how are you going to go about it?

If books are totally useless, then why are you documenting your work and posting it on the forums? What purpose does it serve? All that information you post is totally useless (in your opinion, not mine), unless you and I can get together for some one on one. But no, there is valuable information being exchanged, regardless of the medium used and that is what is important the exchange of information not the medium.

Speaking of medium. Will's involvement with Robert's second book set the stage for some pre-conceived notion wrt the book. What is more important once again, the information contained or the medium used? Was his second book of the same quality as his first? No. Why is that? My opinion on the subject can be seen here.[/b]

Attached is a photo of a cabinet I built for a specific location. The proportions are pretty much correct when dealing with the space this cabinet had to occupy. In the final phases when installing the hinges, absent minded I went with aesthetics over functionality. Would I do the same mistake again? No! That's experience.

In conclusion rules are made to be broken, what one needs is the knowledge and experience to know when, why and how they can be broken and why changing them makes sense. We don't change them just because we want to. The final results must always outweigh the former. In this particular case the swing of the door.

Not trying to preach here, just trying to put my thoughts into perspective.
 

John Kirby

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2010, 10:06 AM »
AH, one can tell it is winter in the hinterlands.

I just spent several lovely days plucking needles and wiring pines.

I don't deny in any way shape or form that Bonsai is art, but it also is a lot of work. It is easy to tell who does the work and who doesn't- just look at the trees.

Happy New Years,
John
« Last Edit: January 04, 2010, 10:28 AM by John Kirby »
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2010, 11:07 AM »
Your absolutely right John. But do you work towards a direction or just plain work?  ;)
 

John Kirby

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2010, 11:27 AM »
That is for me to know and for you to ponder.
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2010, 11:43 AM »
LOL,

A lot of work went into this fir tree, no wait it is a Trident from the National Collection  ;)
 

John Kirby

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2010, 01:16 PM »
You put a very nice tree into the National Exhibit. Or don't you like it? Personally I prefer to see Deciduous trees sans foliage.
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2010, 01:38 PM »
Can't take credit for the tree John it is not mine. Remove the point from this tree and now we have a Maple. I like 'em both way, as a matter of fact I like 'em all the way, especially in fall colour. That is the nice thing about deciduous over conifers or evergreens, they change with the seasons. It's like having many more trees to enjoy without the expense, or work.  :)
 

John Kirby

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2010, 02:10 PM »
Then I don't know why you posted it, if it isn't yours, are you trying to make a point? This tree is relatively immature, relative to some trees you see, yet pleasing. One would expect that over time the tree will mature with work and become even nicer. I fully understand why it would have been exhibited here in North America or in Europe.

Personally, I like the Kokufu exhibit timing, February. The Conifers are not growing rapidly, have fully matured needles/scales and the Deciduous trees are naked and can be viewed at their best.

Those who don't look at conifers with a trained eye, frequently state that the "foliage hides the structure". If you look at the trees with a trained eye you observe the structure and can clearly identify the key structures and the subtle fine points that make a tree good or not. Do I have a trained eye? I am working on it, but I know some who do, and with work I am getting better on high end trees. That is part of the joy of having a long term term teacher/mentor who assist in ones development.
 

Rick Moquin

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Re: Book Review: "Vision of My Soul" by Robert Steven
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2010, 02:32 PM »
Then I don't know why you posted it, if it isn't yours, are you trying to make a point? This tree is relatively immature, relative to some trees you see, yet pleasing. One would expect that over time the tree will mature with work and become even nicer. I fully understand why it would have been exhibited here in North America or in Europe.
It was a tongue in cheek post John. re: AH, one can tell it is winter in the hinterlands.

I just spent several lovely days plucking needles and wiring pines.

I don't deny in any way shape or form that Bonsai is art, but it also is a lot of work. It is easy to tell who does the work and who doesn't- just look at the trees


Wrt the tree in question was/is it intentional or not? Peeking through the foliage I see absolutely no reason for the pointed apex even in this young tree. If it is intentional then it does mimic a nice fir tree, but maples don't grow that way now do they? So perhaps the owner if this is intentional could benefit of a little artsy farcy knowledge versus straight conventional textbook styling. Don't you think?

Quote
Personally, I like the Kokufu exhibit timing, February. The Conifers are not growing rapidly, have fully matured needles/scales and the Deciduous trees are naked and can be viewed at their best.
Can't comment on that never been to one but the timing does make sense when you think of it.

Quote
Those who don't look at conifers with a trained eye, frequently state that the "foliage hides the structure". If you look at the trees with a trained eye you observe the structure and can clearly identify the key structures and the subtle fine points that make a tree good or not. Do I have a trained eye? I am working on it, but I know some who do, and with work I am getting better on high end trees. That is part of the joy of having a long term term teacher/mentor who assist in ones development.
I hear you John and I endeavour to develop mine anyway I can, in the absence of a mentor  :(