Boon on Career Bonsai, Hobbyist v. Artist

Sashi-eda: Boon, so many of us who are passionate about bonsai wish we had the fortitude to “go for broke” and try to make a living at it. What made you decide that it was right for you, instead of pursuing it part-time? And what is most difficult about that?

Boon: The love of bonsai makes it all worthwhile. It makes up for constant airports, bookkeeping, the petty back-biting, and all the rest. There are times–alone, or teaching a workshop when I am just happy. I also have a chance to meet great bonsai people all over the country. The biggest challenge as a professional is having some time for your private life. I am constantly trying to get a little time for myself. It is a good think I like people! Otherwise, it would be very tiring.

Sashi-eda: A great deal of heat and little light has been shed on the “controversy” between those who want to pursue bonsai at the highest level (or write about it) and those who want to pursue it as a hobby. What would you say to those who don’t want to move toward your level?

Boon: If people only want to do bonsai as a light hobby, the first thing is to admit it. Be willing to say, “I am not going to try to reach my maximum potential. I want to play. All I really want to do is to hang out with great people. Bonsai is secondary.” If people are honest enough to say that to themselves, that is more than OK with me. Not every person needs to be on fire for bonsai. But the downside of this is that these people are often great bureaucrats and end up running clubs and becoming program chairs. In clubs like these, excellence in bonsai is not always the focus. Every bonsai organization should ask themselves, “Are our leaders dedicated to good bonsai work?” If not, the work in that club will reflect that. I believe that the top will pull up the bottom. If you want to teach and work with newcomers, you should be good at the basics. Be good at wiring and other fundamentals, for example: the inclination of the branches should be uniform.


Sashi-eda: Another big deal on the web these days is a distinction being made between “Classical Japanese Styles” and “Naturalistic” bonsai style. What are your thoughts on that?

Boon: “Classical Japanese Style,” “Naturalistic Style,” “Traditional Styles,” and “Contemporary Styles” are all worthless classifications. They belong in a trashcan! There is good bonsai and there is bad bonsai–and stuff in between. Bonsai shape and style is rooted from the trees from nature. There are relationships between the type of tree and the appearance of a natural shape. The size of branches and trunk, for example–if your trees’ branches are as big as the trunk, it is not naturalistic. If the branches on top are bigger than the bottom, it is not natural. There are exceptions! But if you pick the trees from nature poorly, (pick poor examples–ed.) you will make bad bonsai but say it is natural. Is Picasso classical or contemporary? The answer is that Picasso was classically trained. He basically said to his fellow painter, “I can do this classical stuff. I have proven it to you. Now you must allow me to do this new stuff.” We forget that Picasso had a solid foundation in classical training. I am even willing to say this a little stronger. Most people who are attached to these classifications often are not good bonsai artists–and they hide behind rules. (I am very glad you asked the question, so I could speak about this.) On occasion I will detail out a black (Japanese black pine) for our bonsai exhibit. It will be cherried out. Then two years later, because it has held much of its shape, I will show it without any wire on it. It will have a much more “naturalistic” look. but the important thing to remember is that I and the bonsai are the same, the only thing that is different is an artistic choice. If the work is good and the artistic expression is good, the concepts above are worthless. There is good bonsai, and there is bad bonsai. That is my very strong feeling.

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