Bonsai is an ancient art form from East Asia, which many claim to be over 2000 years old. Only royal families, noblemen, and high-ranking people formerly practiced the art in the past. Back then, Bonsai was a precious present fit for a king or high-ranking official and it also served as an object for meditation by holy monks in the temples. The art itself was considered much too high to reach or even understood by ordinary people.
Practically, bonsai is just a small tree planted in a pot. It needs sunshine, water, fertilizer, air circulation, pesticides, as well as fungicides to keep the plant living happily. However, bonsai is quite different from general potted plants, as bonsai also requires special knowledge in order to shape it into a certain criteria, so that it will achieve an ultimate beauty. The art of shaping bonsai is a unique thing, as usually people with talent can create beautiful bonsai, while some others might find it very difficult to achieve. Quite often, those artists who can create good bonsai are called masters. However, besides mastering the art of shaping, a person has to know well the knowledge of taking care of the plants. In the past, it was only a very few people that knew how to grow bonsai in the right way.
Bonsai can be grown from seeds, cuttings, air-layers, or from collected material, no matter how the material is obtained, in order to achieve the desired result, it would require a long time learning to care for them and acquiring expertise in shaping them. There are many styles in terms of a bonsai shape that are classified by the character of the trunk, the angle the trunk grows from the soil, number of trunks, the way the branches grow, and the way the roots grow. All these aspects still must be combined with the characteristics of the various species used for bonsai. Considering all that must be considered, learnt, and applied, the expertise of growing bonsai is a bit complicated and is often considered sophisticated.
Beautiful bonsai cultivated for a long time with love, expertise and good care will have a very intimate relationship with the grower. It is some thing to be proud of and could be of a very high value of money in the market. It means that besides being a work of art, bonsai also becomes a commodity to sell. Many rich men are very proud to have bonsai as their sophisticated plants in their garden.
Bonsai competitions held to find the best bonsai displayed in the show is some thing very common. It could and has been done with picture competitions as well, so that it can cover very large areas around the world. The best bonsai will increase the prestige and fame of the artist or owner. The bonsai selected usually will also get better appreciation from the public. It will make the price of the bonsai increased dramatically.
Considering the above, it is clear that bonsai revolves around many aspects. Some of these aspects are love or personal emotions between the artist and the artwork, expertise or mastery in creating art works from something simple into a real beauty accepted by many people. Becoming famous as a bonsai master, a great collector, or as the leader of a sophisticated high level society organization are also aspects of bonsai. With all these options, people can easily enter the trap related to bonsai.
I found that some friends were addicted very much to bonsai. They thought that bonsai was their way of life. Some left their schools and others left their jobs just to make bonsai as their main objective. The desire of getting fame, the illusion that bonsai will give them a lot of money, and the desire of becoming the best bonsai master in the world have poisoned them, so that they are trapped in an illusion of another world that could be much worse than their original.
Some wealthy people in the East are willing to spend a lot of money to collect best bonsai in a show and pay very high prices for them. They do not know much about bonsai. What they know is the plaques or certificates attached to the bonsai. This has created a condition in which quite often they have to hire special bonsai artists to take care of the collections, so that the bonsai will remain in good condition. In the countries where nobilities of bonsai are not yet accepted as a committed tradition, this condition could be a good place for bonsai traders to earn a lot of money through the judging process.
It also happened that some friendships were broken due to simple differences in the way of appreciating a bonsai. Politics in bonsai is some thing very common, though not many people want to accept the existence of it. I noticed that it has happened since the very beginning I entered the bonsai society and later on, I found out that it is not only in my country, but also in many other places in the world. Actually, it is a shame to find out that desires, emotions, jealousy, and ambitions are controlling bonsai more than that of the noble principle intended in the essence of creating a bonsai.
Anyhow, friendships, piece of mind and nobility is in fact still there. In the midst of all of the traps opened in the bonsai doing, we have to find the balance of “yin” and “yang” in enjoying the beauty of a bonsai. Bonsai itself is really a very noble living art to enjoy, both in finding peace and as a meditation object. Achieving that point will increase the artistic value of bonsai doing greatly.
Maturity in getting rid of all the traps and finding out the essence of life hiding behind it is like trying to reach a mystery in the real beauty of a bonsai.
This article was originally published on the Art of Bonsai Project, and republished here with permission from Budi Sulistyo.