Say NO to RULES

4 items, three shohin-bonsai and one accents. Is it right or wrong? Does it matter? Does it work?

4 items, three shohin-bonsai and one accent. Is it right or wrong? Does it matter? Does it work? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

We are still clinging to the bonsai rules thing. When we do not cope with the artistic freedom or maybe are afraid of failing, we can always say we did what we did, because the rules told us to do so. But the frightening truth is, there are no rules in bonsai. There may be some restrictions regarding exhibit areas on a exhibition, how tall a tree going into the shohin category have to be e.g., but generally speaking THERE ARE NO RULES.

A common belief concerning shohin-bonsai displays is that the display has to be with a odd number of trees; when counting elements, dead items do not count in (scrolls), – and even at the latest  exhibition I took part in a judge disqualified a display because of the use of an even number of trees. Say what?

I have therefore borrowed a few photos from the highly recognized Japanese exhibition Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association, with examples that proves not to go with this misunderstanding. There are no rules telling us how many elements to put in to the display area assigned the artist.

Two bonsai and one accent. Is this three items, or two bonsai with and accent? Odd or even numbers? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Two bonsai and one accent. Is this three items, or two bonsai with and accent? Odd or even numbers? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Some times it is easier to set up a display with an uneven number of trees, because it is easier to balance the display. But it is only because of this, not that you cant or will be denied artistic freedom. Why are most displays with an uneven number of elements then? you may ask. Because it is easier to set up and achieve harmony. If you use an even  number of items, the use of negative space is very important to achieve the right balance and harmony – but if it works it works. So please go ahead and experiment with the display, and forget about numbers and rules. Just think about the expression, the mood, the feeling and balance of your display. That´s what counts.

Four items - does it work?

Four items – does it work?
Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

How will you count this? Will you count? Should you?

How will you count this? Will you count? Should you?
Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Four bonsai and one accent or five items? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Four bonsai and one accent or five items?
Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

7 comments

  1. terry davis says:

    YOu may not remember this guy, but his comment is worth remembering.
    Marcial Brossoise Rodriguez: “A shohin is a bonsai of a bonsai”

  2. terry davis says:

    My rule: if it looks good, do it!
    Rules are the refuge of the untalented.
    Arts are in the stagnation stage when they become hemmed in by “rules”

  3. Just Say No says:

    […] They appear on Morten Albek’s Shohin Bonsai Europe blog in a recent post titled, ‘Say NO to RULES‘ that I think is worth a read. BTW: Morten is the author of our Shohin Bonsai, Majesty in […]

  4. princhipi says:

    Really interessting. But may I ask something: no scroll in the example of Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association. Coincidence?
    Check out my blog http://gracietheturtle.wordpress.com
    Melanie

    • Morten Albek says:

      Hi Melanie
      There is a certain space available for each display, and when using racks and tables like in the shohin-bonsai displays, there seldom is space left for a scroll without making the display area crowded. Negative space, or open spaces, are very important in any type of bonsai display, and most bonsai Japanese displays are without a scroll. Only in the Japanese Tokonoma display it is a tradition almost always to use a scroll.
      Best regards
      Morten

  5. princhipi says:

    Reblogged this on Melanie's dream's and commented:
    That’s one of the points that occidental always complain about. Rules tells that… this and that….has to be….!! NO, it doesn’t have to be like that, and this concept is really not easy to explain.
    Thank you Morten for this wonderfull post

    ….love, Melanie

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