7 Years wasted 

The growth of bonsai ‘doyens’ on the Internet continues apace, many eager to pass polite comment and praise on posts, giving encouragement and reassurance to those eager to have it heaped upon them. Very few professional bonsai artists are active on Facebook and other social media platforms and those that are rarely pass comment or judgment, this is tragic as those best placed to offer advice rarely do, as their honesty can be interpreted as arrogance and at worst unprofessional.

Last week I posted on Facebook a link to a Flickr account of a Yew progression over 7 years and commented that it was ‘7 years wasted’ I put my neck out and said what I thought. I sat back and watched the tirade of posts cascade down the screen. Most of the comments aimed at me boiled down to the fact that I am a ‘professional’ and I was bang out of order, because this guy was a beginner and should be encouraged. I backed up my argument with a link to this blog post where 7 years were NOT wasted, yet few agreed and many chose to skirt over the glaringly obvious. When asked, “how many would love this tree in his or her garden?” nobody replied… why is that?

It came as no surprise that most the PM’s to me were from respected artists in praise of what I posted yet when asked to ‘go public’ they declined for fear of exactly the same backlash I have experienced.

Perhaps the most telling statistic was that almost all the negative comments were from UK commentators, would they have been so loose with their vitriol if another ‘Professional’ from across the water had made this comment?… all of the ‘Likes’ were from beyond the UK what does that say about the UK bonsai scene?

The outcome of this tree reflected the ‘skills’ that he gained with its development yet the only Professional artist who commented on the post with: “Sorry, but with good skills, you can make a nice tree out of this material” …this is my point, you are never going to develop those skills if you are repeatedly told that your stick in a pot is amazing.

Here is another truth, the beginners in the bonsai journey who do not have access to a bonsai school, teacher or learned friend have to make do with faint praise and ‘walking on eggshells’ comments on social media. They will continue down the path of mediocrity hoping that ‘one day’ their stick in a pot will be a great bonsai because nobody had the guts to tell them otherwise. They may well be happy but ignorant and we all know that ignorance is bliss. If you put something online expect comment and critique if you do not want that don’t put it out there.

Those who know me well know everything I do to push beginners in the right direction, I have given away more material than most have had pass through their fingers. I have taken people out collecting to help them on their way and the fact that I am giving so many young guys and girls a platform to show their talent next year speaks volumes. So do not question my commitment to helping beginners or my generosity.

I am an easy target because I am visual and comment regularly, this exercise in ‘Truth’ brought out the worst in many people, and the best in a few. So if you want to ‘unfriend’ me because I speak my mind go right ahead, you will not be missed as your comments do nothing to further the art of bonsai or the skills of those wishing to learn.

For the record: “Starts with poor material ends up with poor ‘bonsai’ 7 years wasted” fact.

10 comments on “7 Years wasted 

  1. You make a good point, I will add that the positive comments came after I posted my ‘Tirade’ I also commented on a well known bonsai ‘artist’ (i say that with reservation) about his work… Nobody commented on that post…

  2. On social media or forum, mostly people are expecting agreement and praise rather than constructive critique. People tend to give reasons and excuses rather than trully improve their skill.

    I can live with those who like and happy with their poor tree for certain emotional reason, but when come to “bonsai”, I don’t care how long they have been growing it, bad is bad and no excuse !

  3. It is not wrong to start with poor material at the very beginning. First thing one has to learn is horticulture. This might take 1-3 years, dependent on the information you get and if you are able to decide which methods are useful and which are not. This is not always easy for a beginner because of the large amount of information on the internet. So it’s not a good idea to buy material for 1000+ € for trial and error.

    But then after these very first years, two important things need to happen:

    – He needs to learn what good material is and needs to understand that it is worth the price and the only way to have really good bonsai in his life time is to buy good material.

    – Then he must accept that all the trees he has taken care for years are just “vegetables” and absolutely useless. Every minute he spends to water them is a waste of time. He has to sell them, give them away or compost them as soon as possible!

    The problem is that many people never understand this. There are guys doing bonsai for more than 30 years and still work on these vegetables. They still dig out sticks and put them in a pot, absolutely convinced that this will be a bonsai in many years. The sticks they had 10 years ago are dead of course, because they have no idea of horticulture at all.

    Sorry, if I work on something for 30 years and I have no acceptable product, I have to ask myself if I am doing something wrong or even if this is the right thing for me to spend my time with.

    And these are the people who tell the beginners in the forums what to do with their stick and that it will become a good bonsai.
    Most of them will become like these ignorants themselfes. But some might be able to break trough this vicious circle if somebody tells them how.
    But who should do this? Imagine, if I tell somebody in the forums that his tree is absolutely useless and he needs to compost it. They would stone me.

    Best regards from Germany,
    Andy

  4. Tony, the Internet should be a mind of information, whereas in truth it has become populated with ‘exspurts’ these being former drips that were under pressure. On some forums I have seen speculation become fact, complete waffle turn into an evangelical miracle mostly from people who are talking from a lack of knowledge.
    There are too many oohers and aahers on these forums.

    Is it really true according to the posters of FB that the majority do not wish to progress I think not.

    A number British clubs seem populated by elderly ladies who sit on the front row waiting for their coffee and biscuits but who despite disabilities manage to scrabble on the floor for the fallen prunings to use as cuttings.
    Generally the quality of speakers/demonstrators is woefully lacking in quality some still doing the same as they had in the 80s/90s. Some have even made a reputation for themselves by constantly cutting off the wrong branch everytime.
    I suppose those that wish to progress and those that do not wont!

  5. While I did not see the post or the tree, I have to agree with Tony. I spent 10 years on my own, taking a couple workshops each year from visiting artists. The problem was that I never mastered basic skills that lead to excellence in bonsai. I had many trees that were lacking in many aspects, and I was unaware of their shortcomings. For the past 10 years I have been the student of an amazing teacher and bonsai artist, and the quality of my trees has increased dramatically. So sometimes “7 years of work” is “wasted” or misspent. I am neither a professional nor a rank amateur at this point, and have a reasonable good collection of trees of which I am mostly proud. Any success I have had I owe to a strong interest in learning and a great teacher (Boon Manakitivipart).

  6. Hello Tony,

    What I think is many beginners see those “BEFORE/AFTER” pictures from many Artists and can’t really understand that the start material already had some very special characteristics which they can’t identify…and for a beginner it gives the impression that everything in a “10 years” time can be a fantastic Bonsai…and there are loads of people who feed this wrong idea oftenly…which in my humble opinion is the base of the problem.

    Thanks for both articles.

    Cheers,
    David

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