There are certain subjects in the world, in this case the bonsai, that are critic-proof. Bonsai art is simple: it is the human manipulation of nature, an object of beauty, an appropriation and an adaptation of scale. It is also an obvious metaphor for patience, the need to condition or control our environment, and of the painstaking care that can produce beautiful rewards.

The history of bonsai is well known. So what is to be said about it? Perhaps that bonsai trees are an effective illustration of the fact that we do not know if plants feel pain, but that they do represent it. Bonsai is the pure portrayal of a life of submission. But in its form, in each twist or leaning of its branches, we find tremendous esthetic pleasure.

It is perhaps one of the cruelest and most tender paradoxes: in his desire to dissolve the epistemological distance that separates him from nature, the bonsai botanist distances himself from the pain in favor of form. It remains admirable, nevertheless, the dedication and the effort of the person who is behind these miniature living things. They are so full of life that they outlive by many years him who designs them.

The short documentary American Shokunin by Ryan Bush is precisely about that man behind the bonsai who, capriciously but honorably, gives form to little trees that end up defining his entire life. He molds the tree to the extent that the tree molds the man. The bonsai process is arduous and never-ending, but nothing tells us that although that tree will never taste the sweetness of freedom or become wild and abundant it does not enjoy its own elegance as those who observe it do.

American Shokunin from Ryan Bush on Vimeo.

There are certain subjects in the world, in this case the bonsai, that are critic-proof. Bonsai art is simple: it is the human manipulation of nature, an object of beauty, an appropriation and an adaptation of scale. It is also an obvious metaphor for patience, the need to condition or control our environment, and of the painstaking care that can produce beautiful rewards.

The history of bonsai is well known. So what is to be said about it? Perhaps that bonsai trees are an effective illustration of the fact that we do not know if plants feel pain, but that they do represent it. Bonsai is the pure portrayal of a life of submission. But in its form, in each twist or leaning of its branches, we find tremendous esthetic pleasure.

It is perhaps one of the cruelest and most tender paradoxes: in his desire to dissolve the epistemological distance that separates him from nature, the bonsai botanist distances himself from the pain in favor of form. It remains admirable, nevertheless, the dedication and the effort of the person who is behind these miniature living things. They are so full of life that they outlive by many years him who designs them.

The short documentary American Shokunin by Ryan Bush is precisely about that man behind the bonsai who, capriciously but honorably, gives form to little trees that end up defining his entire life. He molds the tree to the extent that the tree molds the man. The bonsai process is arduous and never-ending, but nothing tells us that although that tree will never taste the sweetness of freedom or become wild and abundant it does not enjoy its own elegance as those who observe it do.

American Shokunin from Ryan Bush on Vimeo.

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