Sunday, 7 June 2009

And as a testament to my own... ahem... thick skin

In a series of posts, I waffled on about the ramifications / consequences of entering bonsai shows and competitions (you can check out what I said here and here).

Having thick skin always helps, having a sense of humour is good, too. But understanding where our little hobby sits in the grand scheme of life, death and the cosmos is probably even better still. (If that was too subtle for you, then get a load of this: it's just a frickin' hobby, OK? It's not the end of the world if judges don't give you any prizes or if nobody likes your trees. You like them, that should be good enough. There.)

I wasn't actually there when this happened, although it did involve my trees. The story was recounted to me by fellow members of the Satsuki Azalea Society, during our display in 2007. I had left the stand to go off for a coffee and a satsuki enthusiast was viewing the display with his friends while providing them with some commentary on the finer points of the species. They get to this Gyoten and he tells them, "This one is beautiful."

They go along the exhibition bench, see this one (another Gyoten - but I still want to believe it's a Kaho) and he says, "This one's lovely."

Further along is the ballerina (Kaho-no-Hikari I think; anyone recognise this pic?) and he says, "That one's good too."

And when he gets to this one, he tells his companions: "And that one's just shite."

Had I been there as the situation unfolded, or if he had said it to my face point-blank, perhaps I wouldn't have been as amused as I am now.

Still, I acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and setting out one's trees on display does make one a target / recipient for said opinions. I myself have been as forceful - and more tactless - in the expression of my views (as many regular readers will know by now).

But life's too short to take everything to heart. My take is, if you can't take the heat then flippin' stay out of the kitchen.

We will be back at the Satsuki show next weekend (I don't get a lot of free weekends in June, really) and these trees will not be shown this year as they haven't been as heavily in flower as in 2007. Part of the beauty of bonsai is the temporalness of a tree's perfection - enjoying a moment in time and never knowing when and if it will revisit you with as much bounty as previously.


  1. Is my understanding correct, that you disagree with the judges assessment of the last satsuki or just their choice of words?
    Perhaps then you might share your thoughts on the merits and redeeming qualities the tree. While I can see the shapes, unique characteristics and flowering qualities of the first three exhibits, on this final one I am at a loss to see where you are going with it or the message you wish to convey. Where does it lie in the style category? Is it a sort of windswept-literati-broom style? Got to say it is a challenge for me.

  2. There isn't any judging at the Satsuki show, the person who made the comment was a member of the general public AFAIK.

    I wasn't offended either, I was actually amused when they told me the story - but like I said, it may have been a different story if he had said it point-blank to my face.

    As to style..! My understanding is that many classical Japanese bonsai enthusiasts are NOT Satsuki lovers (some seem to think of them as 'fluffy' rather than 'meaty' which would be the classic bonsai stuff). And satsuki stylists seem to delight in pushing the boundaries to an extreme. This particular one we call 'the Hockey Stick' and we actually bought it 'cause we thought it was wacky!

    So you could say this last one is art for art's sake - or fluff for fluff's sake? :o)

  3. OK, so why do think the viewer make the comment they did?

    I agree that it is on boundaries of style and if it were in the mainstream artworld the artist would probably be claiming that it was created to challenge ideas, stimulate a reaction or extract the sort of comments it did. Answers which always seem to sound like a cop out to me.

    I believe a viewer of art should be guided to a conclusion. If it were there to repesent a tree then an obvious tree shape would be seen. If it were shaped to display as many flowers as possible then multiple curves in the trunk would allow this. So, if its wackiness is the main characteristic then perhaps presenting the tree less formally would have helped the viewer arrive at a conclusion. Perhaps next time display it in a different context; choose an extraordinary pot, an unusual slab as a stand, a gaudy accent plant so that all these signposts indicate the fun element you were aiming at.

    Just some thought.

  4. Now THAT is an excellent point you make.

    Totally agree that viewers may need to be guided, esp. as I automatically don't tend to view bonsai - or any of the related forms (suiseki, kusamono, satsukis, etc) as horticultural displays - so my mindset is completely different from the start. Which may be 100% contrary to the rest of the viewers.

    Changing the pot to match the quirkiness of the tree is going to be no problem - either the cats or the wind took care of that for me!

    Gaudy accent plants - I keep trying!! The ultimate in gaudiness is my Holy Grail...

    The satsuki exhibition tends to be very traditional, and is rather restricted in space. Putting together a display that would be at complete variance to the rest of the satsuki stand may raise some eyebrows, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Need to get the elements together first. *rubs hands while making evil grin*

    The thought occurs - should this tree be rebaptised from 'Hockey Stick' to 'Captain Quirk'?