Nature As Public Art
This month’s theme focuses on public art, touching on fashion, street art, fine art, and, what may tend to get overlooked, the art found in nature. Nature is around all of us whether it be a tree lining a city street or sprawling mountain ranges covered in thick forests. Nature itself could be considered art, but the patience, skill, and commitment it takes to grow a bonsai plant takes nature as art to a new level. This wonderful art form is captured and elaborated upon in Bonsai: A Patient Art, by Susumu Nakamura and Ivan Watters with Terry Ann R. Neff, which explores the Chicago Botanic Garden’s vast and impressive collection of close to two hundred bonsai. Bonsai are ordinary trees and shrubs which grow in pots or trays and have been compelled to grow into interesting shapes by the daily attention of their caretakers. They give the illusion of old age and comment upon the acceptance of change and the impermanence of life, as well as highlighting the ultimate collaboration between human and nature.
In addition to the visual appeal of bonsai is the equally important aspect of their narrative quality. Based on their style/classification, bonsai can be interpreted as portraying harmony, strength, tenacity, or elegance. Just like fine art, viewers are able to interpret bonsai in many different ways. An essential aspect of the bonsai both physically and compositionally is the pot it is planted in. Without a pot the bonsai would not be complete artistically, never mind not being able to exist physically. Like a frame is to a painting, the pot is to the bonsai, completing and adding to the overall composition and interpretation.
After a look through Bonsai: A Patient Art this charmingly impressive plant will inspire you seek out the beauty in whatever nature is around you and to truly enjoy this form of public art. If you are lucky enough to live near Chicago or to be traveling there soon, be sure to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden and see the bonsai garden in person. The Chicago Botanic Garden offers many activities including biking, birding, photography, garden walks, and more. It also offers over one hundred classes per year for all ages covering topics such as wellness and fitness, certificate programs, horticultural therapy and urban agriculture. Even if you cannot visit the Chicago Botanic Garden yourself, be sure to check out their plant information section for tips on maintaining your own garden, or find a botanic garden near you to enjoy this truly wonderful form of public art.
Each bonsai seems to have a narrative, creating a miniature world of its own. We enjoyed re-imagining the scale of these trees in this sketch.