Perfection in Bonsai

In Bonsai, we strive for not just good technique, but perfect technique. Let me explain. In Japanese culture, discipline is fundamental. It is even more valued than intelligence. For example, If you have ever watched a tea ceremony, you will notice that it is methodical, intentional, and calculated. Same goes for the art of Kendo where there are no wasted moves, every move is intentional. Also, in the art of bonsai, the discipline of perfecting a technique is very similar. This is seen, for example, when a student is practicing the wiring of a tree. The tree is wired, analyzed, the wire is removed and then rewired. This can happen many times until it’s perfect. In the long run, practicing your technique in this way will minimize wire waste, and the “wear and tear” of tools due to misuse. You will also end up with healthier and stronger trees. In other words, practicing your technique will make you a better artist and make your trees much better. This work ethic applies to everything in bonsai.

However, note that there is a difference between attaining perfection in your technique, and trying to make a bonsai tree perfect. Trees are not perfect. Even if your technique is perfect, your trees must never be. Why? The answer to this question is not just about nature, but also about aesthetics. A perfect looking tree is boring. There is nothing interesting. What we would normally perceive as a perfect tree actually has some imperfections and that’s why its looks so interesting and pleasing to the eye. Having made that distinction will help us understand that the pursuit of perfection, as it pertains to technique, will help us become better bonsai artists.

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