The Application of Art Principles in Bonsai Part One: The Golden Section

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The Golden Section appears time and time again within Bonsai guidelines. Every time two design elements are placed in conjunction to each other, there is an opportunity to satisfy the rules of the Golden Section.Since we are dealing with living plants or materials that are constantly changing through the seasons, the Golden Section is simplified to a ration of 1:2/3 or 1½:1From the dimensions of the pot in relation to the bonsai, the distances between each branch level as it ascends up the trunk of the tree, to the position of planting within the pot, the Golden Section is often applied.The asymmetry of the Golden Section is used throughout the Art of bonsai; from avoidance of symmetrical positioning and asymmetrical triangular patterns to the use of odd (rather than even) numbers.

How many times have we heard that the first branch should be placed at a level 1/3 of the height of the tree? That the tree should be planted towards the left or right and not in the centre of the pot? That a bonsai should be placed towards the left or right and not the centre of a display stand? That the main tree within a group planting should never be placed in the centre of the pot?

bonsai trunk

As an example of the way that the Golden section can be applied to a very simple picture; here is a formal upright tree with the first branch positioned 1/3 of the height of the tree. Each branch is placed with diminishing spacing  between it and the next branch according to the Golden Section.

bonsai trunk

In this image the first branch has moved downwards; its relationship visually with the tree as a whole and the next branch upward has changed and creates a less restful image. This is not necessarily 'wrong', however it is now undeniably a less 'restful' image than before.

bonsai trunk

Finally, three branches have been moved up and downwards though the first branch is correctly positioned according to the Golden Section. The image has now become visually uncomfortable.


A second example, in this image, the bonsai (as a whole) is placed centrally on its stand.


It is not until the bonsai is placed according to the rules of the Golden Section and the Two Thirds Rule, that the image as a whole is resolved.


Through this relatively simple law, much of the way we can create and perceive Art can be altered. In one article it would be impossible to cover all the far reaching implications of the Golden Section within just the context of bonsai, let alone Art itself. By understanding the principles of the Golden Section it is possible to positively apply them in a myriad of ways when styling and presenting your trees.
However, it should be noted that it would never be possible for every facet of a tree to comply with the Golden Section, neither would it be beneficial to try to. Trees, trunks and branches do not grow in accordance with an Artistic Law and its over use within a composition could well become too visually repetitive.
Certain features within a design that disobey the Golden Section can be deliberately used to create movement and energy which is then resolved elsewhere in the composition.


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

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