My bonsai buddies and I were having the discussion lately of what constitutes a critique. A few points came out of it:
The word critique is loaded often with a negative connotation related to criticizing and words are important. Calling it instead of critique, analysis or study perhaps works better.
One friend raised the point that a critique or analysis has another person at the other end and most often people are only receptive to critiques from those they perceive as peers of equal or better standing than themselves. So, for example if I offer a suggestion or Ryan offer the same suggestion, it is more likely to be to be paid more attention to if Ryan does it. This second point is somewhat connected to the first. When we critique, we are offering advise, the owner of the tree is the one that could benefit from the critique. When we study or analyze a tree, it is more neutral or clear that we are doing it primarily for ourselves, those analyzing or studying it are the ones that are learning from it.
The second point above brings me to the third and last:
- When a child gives the wrong answer to a question, did the child make an error? What was the logic behind choosing that answer? In bonsai, there is always intention. Nobody gets a black bandana covering their eyes, gets a tree they’ve never seen placed in front of them and spinned and the person stops it and starts pruning, wiring, in the dark. Even then it would not be random, that person will create a mental image. So intentionality is always there. Trying to understand the intentionality behind the selection of front/angle, the pruning, the placement of branches, the size of pads, etc is the most important factor in analyzing a tree. There we can understand why the creator did something and then judge whether it was the best appropriate choice or not at that time. We can do this judgment call for our own growth in studying the tree or for the growth of the artist if we are critiquing the tree.
All that to say that learning from Ryan how to recognize the factors that make evident the intentions of the artist, recognizing the signs why a front was selected, why branches were placed where they were and why they were build the way they we’re, etc, will allows us to sharpen our skills to learn from every tree we study. So it would be great if Ryan could emphasize this aspect of not deconstructing a tree but deconstructing the likely thought process the artist followed more in future studies/critiques of trees. It would also be most interesting in this respect if Ryan critiques his own past creations too, as there he presumably knows what was he thinking back then…
I also loved that Ryan allowed us to have say in the critique/study - definitely a keeper. Him guiding us about how to approach a tree, the different steps to understand it, then how to potentially improve upon it. More critiques. It would be awesome to critique/study and virtually design also raw material.