What is the art of Bonsai?

Posted by Bob Verlaat on

A Bonsai tree, best known as a dwarf potted plant or tree landscape, is not only considered as a form of gardening or plant cultivation but it is considered as a form of aesthetic art. The word 'Bonsai' is a Japanese term that means 'planting in a dish or container.' The term can be broken down into the following:

  • 'Bon'- a dish or thin modified vessel formed from cutting in a more profound form.
  • 'Sai'- a tree or plant cultivated or planted into a vessel.

The term 'Bonsai' hence means 'a tree planted in a shallow vessel.' 

Defining Bonsai Trees and the form of Art 

'Bon-sai,' a term or rather a form of plant cultivation that revolves around planting a tree in a container, was derived from the ancient Chinese Empire in the 8th century. Taking inspiration from traditional horticultural practice in China, the art of Bonsai developed and evolved under the influence and advancement of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It has been one thousand years ever since the form of art originated. Cultivating or growing a Bonsai refers to creating a miniature yet realistic universe structure that represents nature and beauty. 

Genetically, Bonsai is not a dwarf or short-height plant. Instead, any tree species can be cultivated to make one. A myth associated with Bonsai trees is that they are genetically shorter. That is not true. Any tree species can be placed in a small container, after which its growth, roots, and food storage are restricted. Any plant species with wooden trunks and barks can grow into a container and create a Bonsai. To sum it up, any tree, bush, copses, or hedges around you can be used to form a Bonsai. 

The size of your Bonsai determines the abstraction and precision of the elements of nature you plan to reflect. Classifications of Bonsai are presented that help understands the botanic and aesthetic aspects of Bonsai. These classifications are based on the labor required to lift the original tree. 

Different Bonsai meanings 

Although the literal meaning of the word Bonsai is a tree or plant in a pot, it is essential to understand that a bonsai tree is more than just a potted tree or plant. It is supposed to represent nature through a miniature tree without showing human interference and intervention. 

Different connotations of Bonsai trees include:

  • An average tree shape and style (natural/wild).
  • Smaller trees than the same kind of tree beyond the vessel for easy transportation.
  • A natural aesthetic that humans can subtly intervene, but that intervention should not be evident enough to ruin the naturalness. 
  • It is considered an aesthetically strong representation that each viewer can interpret separately based on their own experiences and vibe.
  • Valuable or respected enough possession that has been cared for with time and effort.
  • Small portable and transportable garden that can represent aesthetic landscapes and seasons for contemplating and meditation. 

The above connotations are subjective. Bonsai trees can mean something else to each person.

Is the cultivation of Bonsai trees a form of art or a Horticultural practice? 

Bonsai trees are not just any average potted plants. Bonsai trees are considered an impactful form of art that is supposed to show the future and the artistic approach of the mature creation that the person tends to reflect. The irony of Bonsai trees is that since they are ever-growing pieces, they will never be completed or finished; hence you can experiment and play with them as much as you want. The type of Bonsai tree you have determines the number of changes and styles your Bonsai will undergo within the years of its growth and development. Another surprising fact about Bonsai trees is that they live longer than their full-sized original trees, mainly because of the amount of attention and care they get. 

To portray a miniature landscape, trunks, barks, deadwood, live wood, twigs, branches, roots, and leaves in a shallow vessel or container with minimal fruits and flowers can be used. Finding all of these features in all Bonsai trees isn't necessary. A sensible composition according to what the creator wants to portray or reflect through their Bonsai tree is needed. Although there is no right and wrong to the features you consider magical for your Bonsai, you can't just throw all parts possible in your tree. However, the concept behind a bonsai tree is to depict elements of nature, and that should be there. 

Hence, Bonsai is a mixture of art and horticultural knowledge. 

Design Aesthetic and Artistic Capabilities: Bonsai Trees

Initially, concerns regarding your Bonsai's health and growth overtake your effort. However, concerns turn towards design and aesthetics once you've known enough about your specific Bonsai. An ideal bonsai is the one that allows viewers to interpret its meaning does not contain features or elements to show off. Instead, it has minimalistic parts and components to enable viewers to play with their interpretations. 

Moreover, it isn't necessary to share your Bonsai art. Like all passions, the art of Bonsai can be very personal or commercial. They can be developed slowly and gradually or quickly with little or no experience. Like we said before, there is no right and wrong when it comes to designing your Bonsai. Depict what you want in the way you want to create a magical form of art that is ever changeable and growing!

Bottom Line

Developing and cultivating a bonsai tree involves effort and care like every hobby or passion. Although many may believe that a Bonsai is just an average tree in its miniature form, this isn't true! Every Bonsai is mystical, magical, and unique in its way. Play with it, experiment with it, and create what you want to depict; there are no limitations, but since it's a plant, you'd have to provide it with its basic needs and requirements. Nevertheless, the process is worth it and gives you a sense of being an artist once you create a piece of nature in your element!

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