Art = Communication

Why do you consider certain works of art to be beautiful or evocative and others to be dull and uninspiring? Why is it that one piece of music can be soothing and pleasant to hear and another may seem chaotic and unsettling to listen to? Why is it that when you look at some paintings, you are drawn to one particular part of it or you immediately grasp the artist’s message? How can a piece of music evoke happiness or sadness? Why does anyone find beauty or meaning in any work of art? What gives art this power over the human psyche?

bunjin pine

The answers lie largely in what sorts of elements the artists uses in his/her work and how the artist composes these various elements that constitute a work of art. This composition determines how the elements relate to each other and how the work communicates with the viewer. Arts, like painting, bonsai and music, follow certain useful conventions, whether visual or aural, for using line, form, color, space and texture (or similar metaphoric elements), all in specific arrangements with varying levels of balance, harmony, precariousness and tension to convey meaning.

We habitually respond to these commonly recognized conventions and perceive beauty or meaning in them. We see or hear the drama, the sadness, the emphasis, the activity or inertia that the artist expresses. We may even respond with the emotion that he asks of us.

In other words, art is communication. The artist speaks to us and if we grasp his message, we respond to the artist’s message with our understanding, interest or emotion. If, however, the artist does not use a language that we are familiar with, we are unable to “hear” the artist’s voice, we do not grasp his message and we find the work dull, uninspiring or not artistic at all. In this case, it may be that we simply lack the relevant understanding. Perhaps it may be that the artist is not skilled at communication and has not produced meaningful work. After all, communication requires understanding on the part of both the speaker and the listener.

The grammar and vocabulary of this language of art is found largely in the fundamental artistic conventions for using line, form, color, space, balance and texture. The syntax of this language of artistry is found in how these elements are composed and how they relate to cultural context(s) to convey meaning or beauty to the viewer. These conventions are what some characterize as the “rules” of art.

The language of art is no different from any other language in that the rules of its grammar and syntax do not fully define it. Moreover, most of the rules of language have exceptions and creative modes of communication exist that make little or no reference to rules. Every language is lent nuance and style and character by the way that each individual uses it. For every grammatical rule, for every syntax convention there are exceptions; there must be exceptions! Far from being rigid, both language and art are fluid and malleable to some degree.

However, no language succeeds without structure. The fundamentals of communication are always relevant and always necessary as reference points. Without the fundamentals, without some kind of basic reference, communication is impossible; be it verbal, written, musical, physical or artistic communication.

Bonsai art is no different than painting or architecture or music in this regard. The art of bonsai uses the relevant media – the trunk, branches and foliage of the tree, the pot, the stand, the soil surface elements and some companion elements of display …all to tell a story. In bonsai art, as in any other art, certain useful conventions can be employed to convey meaning. Some arrangements of these physical elements of bonsai art can communicate beauty or turmoil …and some arrangements are not at all effective for doing so.

If we can learn to recognize these useful conventions of styling and composition and become familiar with how they can be employed to convey meaning, we improve our chances for making meaningful bonsai art. This book will be an attempt to demystify this language so that you, the budding bonsai artist, can improve your artistic communication skills and make beautiful, evocative, meaningful bonsai.