The Application of Art Principles in Bonsai:Part Two Visual Movement

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There has been much debate in recent years as to the relationship between Bonsai and Art. Is the practice of Bonsai purely horticultural or does it have strong artistic aspects as well?

Many enthusiasts initially approach bonsai for it's horticultural practices and it is only when they then attempt to style and form their trees, that the artistic and creative side of the practice comes into play.

There are in fact many basic artistic principles at play when we design our trees; or, at least there should be. Many of these principles are already provided for us in the commonly applied 'Rules of Bonsai'.

Visual Movement, the subject of this article, is often found in 'the Rules of Bonsai' that determine the positioning of a bonsai in it's pot and the relationship between objects in a Japanese 3-point display.

Visual Movement

    Bonsai and Visual Movement

This sketch by Leonardo da Vinci is known as 'Masquerader in the Guise of a Prisoner' and is taken from an old book of printed sketches by Da Vinci.

Each sketch in the book has been placed squarely on it's page; possibly by the publisher or possibly by Da Vinci. This sketch is ideal for illustrating the purpose of, understanding, finding and using movement in Art, bonsai and photography.

Bonsai and Visual Movement

If the image is studied, key components can be found that show the direction of 'energy', the 'flow' of the picture or it's movement.

Arguably the most important features are the subject's face and hands, and to a lesser degree, his knees and feet. All are directed towards the right and therefore, the 'movement' of the picture could be said to be towards the right. (If one notices the cup hanging from the Masquerader's belt, even this is open and facing towards the right).

Armed with this knowledge, the central figure can be placed in different positions in a larger frame, to better and worse effect.

Bonsai and Visual Movement

If the figure is repositioned to the left of the image, it's movement is given room to 'flow out' into the empty, negative space on the right hand side of the picture. The figure looks 'comfortable' in this space and the overall composition is pleasing to the eye.

Bonsai and Visual Movement

Move the figure to the right hand side of the frame and something is now wrong with the composition. The flow and the movement of the figure is now cramped and the energy of the figure is lost. The empty space 'behind' the figure (on the left) looks unnecessary and awkward, almost wasted space.

Visual Movement, like the Golden Section is something we all 'see' and 'recognise' automatically on an almost subconscious level but we sometimes fail to acknowledge when we compose our own Art. Understanding movement in bonsai, photography or Art can help us exploit the subconscious of the human eye and enhance composition and the illusion of movement.

Another example using a photograph of a Juniper (digitally enhanced for the purpose of this article).

Bonsai and Visual Movement

As with most people who take digital photographs, I like to crop my raw photographs to reduce file size and to improve the composition of my photos.

Bonsai and Visual Movement

Though perhaps a little exaggerrated, I have seen images of bonsai, portraits and other photos with a strong focal point, cropped as badly as this. Why does this image look wrong to most people who study it, even those with no bonsai knowledge?

Bonsai and Visual Movement

If the flow of direction of this bonsai is studied, even briefly, the visual movement is very strongly towards the left. Therefore the focal point (the bonsai) should be on the right hand side.

Bonsai and Visual Movement

With the flow of movement of the tree found and the tree positioned in the composition correctly, the photograph looks correct. (Just compare the difference with the previous cropping).

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