Bonsai Economics and Creativity
As wonderful as it is to see highly managed bonsai using the latest techniques, in expensive antique or modern handmade pots, it can also be discouraging. Especially if you don’t have the means to get that skillset training or to buy those lovely pots.
We see, for the most part, results from wealth-produced bonsai at the top of Facebook or Instagram feeds. And they’re beautiful. In collaboration with others I’m a part of that, and proud of those efforts.
But if you don’t have that kind of money, don’t lose heart. Invention isn’t owned by money.
I know a bit about what I’m talking about here. When I was a potter I got familiar with frugal thinking as a way to spur creativity. As a sculptor I worked with found objects a lot. It was convenient to say I liked them, though at the time I didn’t have many affordable options. I did often enjoy where I ended up, though, and learned a good lesson: that having unlimited options isn’t the only way to make good work. Wealth produced sculpture wasn’t better, it was just different.
When I started composing forest plantings on cheap nylon cutting boards, it was because other things in the business were taking priority to expensive custom slabs. So we got inventive with alternative supports. And we found some new paths to explore by doing so. Now I still use some of those techniques, though more refined now, for current work.
I also did a lot of yamadori tree collection early on—in fact, most of my better bonsai I collected myself. Cheap, compared to bought stock. This is the bonsai equivalent of the found object.
What I learned from my years of limitation:
- forget about comparisons
- investigate what you do have
- be willing to step away from tradition
- be willing to take risks, to fail
- wander around thrift stores and keep your ‘what if?’ wonderer intact
- start somewhere: one piece will inform and lead to the next
- that exploration will enable wiser and more confident work
- those who have unlimited resources don’t out-create those who have few
Be bold wherever you find yourself. On the far end of the art world spectrum is Outsider Art, or Art Brut—works created by those outside the establishment. These artists make paintings, sculpture and even buildings that are unconnected with familiar resources, but their work is often compelling. Much establishment work has to do with money ladders. If you’re on a one-legged stool, embrace going sideways. Keep working in bonsai, don’t give up. And share what you do. We want to see it.
More about art: Listen to a fantastic podcast episode with art teacher Cheryl McAlister and podcast team member Jonas Dupuich, who speaks from his own broad creative background.
Also the June 4, 2021 post floats a creative concept, courtesy of Stephen King.