Kempinski Korner – September 2023

Lateral Thinking

Crossword puzzles offer a chance to take advantage of the English language’s great diversity.  The tougher the puzzle the more lateral one must think using the word length, the position of the known letters and possible definitions.  Sometimes the definitions are straightforward and sometimes they may be an obscure reference or use of the word. In many ways we face the same challenge in designing a bonsai tree. We have to apply the mechanisms, both obvious and esoteric, of how a tree grows to effect an outcome. 

Tough crossword puzzles require extensive lateral thinking and good general knowledge

In crossword puzzles the lateral thinking comes from knowing various definitions and word usage.  In bonsai lateral thinking can occur by going outside the art and examining how other art forms approach creativity. Recently I was listening to a podcast by Bert Kreischer, a comedian known for not wearing a shirt during his stand-up routines. While you would think his comedy is simplistic and just plain crass, in the podcast he was discussing how he analyzes other performers, not just other comedians, and how they approach their respective art.  He used as an example how a certain boxer approached a fight and the strategy used of wearing out the opponent by placing a series of strategic blows to win the fight in the long run. What would boxing have to do with comedy? Well Kreischer then spoke about how he is trying to evolve his act to take on more diversity by studying these other performers. He pondered how the boxer’s long term approach might apply to his stand up routines; maybe there would be a connection, and maybe not. The point is he approached his art form with a lateral thought to draw any advantage from parallels and dichotomies. 

Glass of Absinthe (Paris, spring 1914), Pablo Picasso

Studying other art forms, even perhaps practicing them, is actually good advice for bonsai artists. And you wouldn’t be alone. For example, Pablo Picasso painted but he also made sculpture, shaped ceramics, wrote poetry and dabbled in theater, writing plays. The singer Halsey paints and even sang a song live on Saturday Night Live while she painted a portrait upside down.  How is that for using multiple sides of the brain! If these successful artists can do it, I believe bonsai artists should as well.

Note I mentioned creativity- if one were just going to practice bonsai craft then there is not much creativity involved.  One just follows the rules and solves the puzzle of a bonsai design much like one would prove a geometry problem in 10th grade.  You know left, right and back branch, branch spacing etc. Doing so you might end up with the cookie cutter helmet on a stick. But if you really want to get artistic then get lateral. Try painting, dancing, singing, writing, fashion design, or playing a musical instrument. Study these other art forms and then think how can I apply these techniques to bonsai. Consider proportions, spacing, timing, perspective, and layering of ideas or themes.  All of these concepts have a role in bonsai design.  

“Giant Tortoise Bonsai” a painting by Takumi Kama laterally delves into the surreal and trompe l’oeil

One can even take lateral thinking beyond art and look at science and engineering, business, economics or any other thoughtful subject to assess and correlate to bonsai design.  You never know what field can spur creativity. Results will vary based on the individual but the more lateral your approach the more you will enjoy both bonsai and the other endeavor.  Give it a shot.