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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beautiful Bonsai - English

‚Beautiful bonsai’

I know, it is all my own fault. Since I have led Fred to this IBC gallery he is not so much around anymore recently. This IBC gallery is a continuous Valentine’s Day for bonsai enthusiasts. All the time flowers are being presented. I have made the mistake to go to Fred’s thread there and to write a critique to his bonsai.

Ding dong

I think I have to go to the front door, somebody seems to not be happy about my critique.

“What the h… are you smoking to ruin my great thread with such superfluous and vicious commentary?” Fred did not loose time. “What is wrong with my commentary? What’s so mean about it? I have written a constructive criticism to your bonsai.”

Fred presented a printout of his thread with his bonsai and my critique.

My critique: “This is a very nice picture of a tree that will appeal to many people. It will most appeal to people who have no clue about bonsai. They cannot tell that this is a deciduous semi-tropical tree which is styled in the old-fashioned manner as a pine tree looking like a Christmas tree. A pine tree with huge red flowers! This is bonsai kitsch it is McBonsai! This in no way helps to educate the general public about what bonsai really means. Where is the Zenny feeling her? Where is the understatement? This is Hollywood bonsai! Well, I must admit I kind of like it , even if it is kitsch.”

“This has nothing to do with constructive criticism. If you want to know what that could be then you should have read what the other posters had to say.”

I shrugged and said “Well, Fred, these were empty flowery phrases. No helpful constructive critique for you.”

Fred looked at his paper and responded defiantly “Ah, and what is this here? Here the very first statement says it clearly: ‘beautiful bonsai’”

I looked somewhat puzzled “So what? What exactly does that mean ‘beautiful bonsai’?”

Fred rolled his eyes “This is more than clear. But for you as a beginner bonsaiwise I will explain it once more. ‘Beautiful bonsai’ means that the viewer likes the tree very much. That he likes it regarding the artistic achievement as well as for the craftsmanship; he thinks it is a masterpiece.” Fred folded his arms and grinned at me like ‘now you!’

I stayed quite calm and remarked “where from do you have this definition for ‘beautiful bonsai’?”

Fred rolled his eyes again “What do you mean, where I got this definition from? It is crystal clear what the expression ‘beautiful bonsai’ means. What else could it mean?”

“Well it is like with references and testimonies. There you find ‘he always tried hard’, which means that he had not invented Protestant work ethics, he is just a lazy pig, a non-achiever.”

“Oh well” Fred blushed a little. He apparently was thinking through his last reference “and what do YOU think ‘beautiful bonsai’ means exactly?”

I made a contemplative expression and said “I cannot tell exactly at the moment, but I can look it up.”

“Look it up? Where?” asked Fred.

“Oh well” I answered “for this we have the International Guidelines for Bonsai Critiques. Just a moment I will fetch them.”

I went to my study and came back two minutes later. Fred still stood with wide open eyes. I knew it! He had never heard or this.

I did not even look a t him and stated to browse. “Well, let’s look – ‘beautiful bonsai’ here we are:

“ ‘Beautiful Bonsai’
if this expression occurs singularly as comment one must assume that the writer did this out of sheer friendliness and tradition. It is the expression of the viewer who does not see any successful artistic factor in the bonsai and who cannot make a positive remark. Since he assumes that the artist and the readers are not used to open criticism he uses the empty phrase ‘beautiful bonsai’.
The constructive substance for a tree critique is zero.”

“That’s complete nonsense!” Fred said with excitement. “Wait wait! What is with this commentary here ‘wow, hammer tree, this really cracks me up!’”

“Just a moment, I will look it up. Ah, here it is:

- if this expression is used in connection with ‘beautiful bonsai’ see there.
- if the word is used in connexion with hammer .. or mega…one must conclude that the writer is on some sort of mild drug or forgot his medication.
In cases where this phrase is used with ‘cracks me up’ then the sentence above applies, only the word ‘mild’ has to be exchanged for ‘heavy’.
The constructive substance for a tree critique is zero.”

“But here, this commentary is full of praise. ‘Great, I have tried this one too, but yours is much better’ .This should be clear without your book.”

“Let’s see” I tried to look as cool as possible. Any lining of malicious joy would bring him to explosion.

“ Comparisons with own bonsai, where the bonsai that is being critiqued is called the better one:
has the writer got a similar bonsai that is clearly worse he would never mention it. If you still find this comparison you can take it that the pundit makes fun of your bonsai and want so to say ‘look at my web site if you want to see how this is really done, you sucker’. Since this honest critique would not be helpful one hides the real meaning behind empty praise.
The constructive substance for a tree critique is zero.”

Fred read a few more commentaries like super, fantastic, extraordinary, amazing etc.. The explanations of the book always were very simple. They said “look up ‘beautiful bonsai’”.

Fred made a last attempt. “Now here! This commentary is brief, explicit and it is not possible to misinterpret it: ‘super the photograph is really great’. Now lets see what your smart book says to this.”

Scroll, scroll .. oh yes here it is:

“‘great photograph’
there are various photographs, sometimes even great ones. There are various bananas, sometimes even great ones. If you take a photograph of a banana you have taken a photograph of a banana. If you take a great photograph of a banana, you have taken a great photograph of a banana. It makes no difference at all whether your object is good or bad, it is still a banana. The critique wants to express that there is nothing positive with the bonsai. To give his comment a friendly touch still, he admires something which has nothing to do with the quality of the bonsai, namely the photograph. It is like the guru says 'beautiful moss' when critiquing your bonsai.
The constructive substance for a tree critique is zero.”

Fred rumpled his printout with the commentaries and looked quite pissed. ”I could have known that. The commentaries are similar to the ones of my Mary when she wants to get something out of me. But the IBC folks don’t want to get something out of me. Why all this wish-wash?

I shrugged and said “no idea, maybe some are simply craving for strokes. It is not really that bad as long as you understand how to interpret it. The danger exists though, that when you get a serious bonsai critique you take it personally and your ability for self critique vanes.”

“Cannot happen to me” Fred mentioned, “ I am always open to honest commentaries.”

“O yeah, sure”, I thought.

“There was one more commentary on your printout”, I remarked.
Fred frowned and he said “Yes, here one wrote simply ‘to the dumpsters’, but I have ignored him right away, he only wants to be provocative.”

“Oh, you have ignored him simply and he has not written more?”

“No no!” Fred responded, “that’s not what I meant. If someone expresses himself in a derogatory way one can put him on IGNORE at the IBC gallery and he cannot express himself anymore.”

“Mhm, that’s what they call self criticism at the IBC. Great outfit, what is not liked gets disposed of at once.”

Fred pondered a bit and then said “Well, if all that sounds positive is really negative, then the remark ‘to the dumpsters’ could really be something very positive.”

“Eh, what is positive in the expression ‘to the dumpsters’? That’s so clear, I don’t’ think that is in the book.” I said puzzled.

“Don’t yap, look up the book, you have not clue yourself.”

So well, then let’s look “Oh yes here it is.”

“ ‘to the dumpsters’
not very constructive, but to be taken very positively with some experience in bonsai critiques.”

“Hear, hear!”, Fred said in a pronounced tone.

“Just a moment, here is more to the expression”

“- The very positive meaning of the expression ‘to the dumpsters’ comes from the fact that it is a concise but honest answer that leaves no leeway for interpretations. ‘To the dumpsters’ means ‘to the dumpsters’ to everyone.
small modifications are ‘go fishing’, ‘scrap’, ‘rather go knitting’ etc.
‘to the dumpsters’ is the honest way to say ‘beautiful bonsai’, see there.”

“Show me this g…..ed book”, Fred yelled. He read a bit in it and then said relatively ungently “just wait now! I will write commentaries from now on that will make them shiver.” He turned around and walked to his home. There came John from the Yodeling Group at him with a big grin on his face “Hi Fred, I looked up your website. Really all very beautiful bonsai!”

Fred stopped, flushed and stemmed the fists into his sides. ”I smack the beautiful bonsai right into your face you M…………R”

Then he went on to his home; John stood like a doused poodle, shrugged and said to me “What’s up with him? Have I said something wrong?”

“Oh no”, I said “Fred does not think much of these empty phrases. He needs constructive criticism.”


So at the next tree critique remember that the artist may also own the International Guidelines for Bonsai Critiques. Be honest with your tree critique. It helps nobody to talk the bonsai beautiful. And if someone sets you on ignore you know that Reiner, mhm, no Fred has sneaked into other Forums too.

And now I don’t want to hear ‘Beautiful Story’.

Written closely according to an essay in the ‘Beautiful Website’ of The Buxtehuder Fotofreunde

With the kind permission of the original author, Thomas Tremmel. He wrote about the silly comments on photographs in a forum for photography


  1. That's a very instructive story.
    I realise now that most of my comments on bonsai I see are mostly wow and beautiful.
    Here and there I do see a bonsai where I end up thinking "Nice flow of the trunk, but it lack a good nebari" or "That nebari is pretty impressive, but it kinds of off balances the trunk"

    Its tough to be really critic about bonsai though unless you have some experience in what you wish to express / point out about the bonsai.