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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bonsai, an "art" or a "craft?"

Picture by Tom Simonyi. Posted with permission.
A young lady in a writer's group on Facebook was surprised that I referred to bonsai as an "art." (She was polite about it.) She thought of bonsai as a "craft."

I could think of no better way to try to convince her, under the circumstances, than to post this picture. This tree is a Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia) that belongs to Tom Simonyi of Morgantown, WV. It was Tom's first bonsai ever, and he's been working with it for over 25 years now.

If you would like to see earlier images of this tree, and know more of its history, please visit these two links: Never quite finding the key to key lime, and Key Lime transition.

The first one gives the earlier story of this tree, the second is up-to-present-time. Bonsai Vault will require you to register (for free) to see the pictures, but if you're interested in bonsai (and especially if you're interested in tropicals,) I think it's worth it.


  1. First, define art. :-) Go on, I'll give you a few hours...

    All art and craft tell us something of their creator, and his/her aims and goals, and sense of aesthetic. Capital "A" Art goes beyond this, I think, with a message of its own; a reflection of the artist, yes, but also a reflection of the viewer. (For more on this last part, see a post I wrote on one of my blogs several years ago: http://artist-fartist.blogspot.com/2007/09/eye-of-beholder.html)

    The tree above, on its own, I would argue is not Art. This is not to say that it isn't masterfully done, or that it doesn't speak volumes about the creator/Creator. But it stops there. If one takes this, and then puts it in a different context, we'd get more meaning(s). Imagine this tree, alternately, among perfectly straight pines; sprouting from a pregnant belly; growing among the ruins of bombed-out Dresden; on top of a head vibrant with ideas; on a hill surrounded by Roman soldiers. Each imparts new meaning and message to what was previously just an amazing tree.

  2. Andy is maybe half right. "Art" to me is a description like big or small. It is all a matter of perspective. A man is big standing next to an acorn. A man is small standing by an old oak tree. All bonsai have one thing in common: They are ALL trees in pots. Some are works of art and some aren't. The guy selling little junipers out of the back of his van is simply selling trees in pots. If you look at Kimura's trees, they are works of art. There is a lot of "art" out there that I'd consider real art and there is a lot of stuff that passes for art that I think is junk. (I'm trying to be nice!) Now, that being said, it sounds like Mr. Kerr doesn't know or understand much about the art of bonsai. A tree doesn't need to be in a bunch of silly places to be a work of art. A well done tree designed by bonsai artist IS art. It doesn't need anything else. That would only detract from the beauty of the bonsai.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, gentlemen.
    Andy, you're on the right track when you speak of context. The context for a bonsai is the natural world, especially trees. That's Scott's starting point, and mine.
    Imagine a tree growing on a high-altitude slope, with competing trees uphill. A second trunk spouts off from the first, leaning outward toward more light. After some years, lightning takes out the primary trunk, leaving only its stub, and the secondary trunk, still there, still reaching out into unblocked light, still surviving the winds and the snows. That's the sort of story I see told in Tom's tree.
    For me, as for Scott, this tree is a piece of art, with the story it tells, and the atmosphere it evokes. :)

    1. I have trees that evoke imagination of a natural place, others that artistically attempt to reflect human conditions, both reflect on the uniqueness of the creator and the viewer, I personally wouldn't call scenic bonsai an art, but the ones that reflect human condition are in my opinion. Read this and you will see what I mean. http://www.andyrutledge.com/book/contents/langofartistry.htm