I really dread that question.
Whenever someone asks me that, it’s generally after I’ve talked their heads off about my tiny trees. Generally I’ll shrug and mention “The Dinner Game,” an excellent movie in which the protagonist invites obsessive idiots to a dinner party. The antagonist has binders of photos of miniature landmarks that he’s recreated using only glue and toothpick sticks.
I mention that I would be an excellent idiot.
That’s usually the end of it, but I’ve decided it’s an important question to answer. To do that I’m going to need to discuss some math. Don’t worry, we’ll be focussing on the big picture rather than any equations. The relevance will make sense soon.
Fractals are mathematical sets that exhibit a repeating pattern that is visible at every scale. Like this:
This is Sierpinski’s triangle. Looks complex right? Well, it can be built pretty simply.
Build a Pascal’s triangle, shade the even numbers and there you go. All of a sudden a very complex pattern has emerged from simple ‘rules.’ Fine then, what do these triangles have to do with bonsai? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at some more simple fractals, some that might be more relevant.
In the hippocampus,
the anatomy of the lungs,
the veins of a leaf,
or the branches of the trunk and trees itself. Whatever language life has, whatever logic or description of it as a whole is found in this sort of math. They have a curious kind of beauty in natural systems absent from the garish posters found in pretty much every dorm room. You know.
It’s easy to start to see these sorts of patterns in bonsai, particularly great bonsai.
If you notice though, none of these trees resemble the perfect mathematical trees that we depicted above. Instead they depict disturbed patterns, the trees’ internal logic bent by whatever adversities or unique situations that nature inflicted upon them. Even still, despite this adversity the tree pushes on, reproducing, flowering, growing, insisting upon its internal logic, its own rightness.
The fractal pattern of good bonsai means that the bonsai artist does not simply tell a story, they tell a story using that internal mathematic language of life, articulated in a living organism. Bonsai then is not simply visual art, it is performance art, spoken between the tree and the artist in the same language that guides all manner of natural system.
That is why I bonsai.