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On originality...

Public opinion (what we get when we post a picture and ask for comments) does not reward original creativity. I think that is true in all forms of art. The public has to be warmed up to an idea before they recognizes its value. By the time the public learns to approve of a new idea the forefront of creativity has moved on. Originality is only valued and recognized by a few.

Originality isn't even very well valued. It amuses me that the one aquascape for which I received the most compliments from the widest variety of people is the one that was an unabashed ripoff of an Amano-scape. It -- a simple layout with riccia and stone -- did not contain a single original element. On the otherhand I occasionally see aquascapes with what I think are successful creative elements and those aquascapes are broadly ignored and disapproved.


On American style...

I agree with Jeff Senske that there is an American style. He called it "Design Style." I tend to think of it as an abstract style. As I understand it, the intent of the aquascape is to realize a design. It is a submersed community garden. It is not intended to represent a natural scene and it differs from a Dutch garden because it avoids most of the stylized formalisms. There may be other common features in an American style. I recall that Karen Randall (who may have seen first-hand more American aquascapes than anyone else) said in her talk at last year's AGA convention that regular use of red plants is an important element in American style. I tend to think of the use of red plants as a technique (and a widely abused one) not as a style.

For what it's worth there are several recognizable styles other than just Nature Aquarium and Dutch; e.g., there are German emergent tanks, Tonina tanks, Chinese formal gardens and others.


The state of aquascaping...

I think that aquascaping as an art is in its infancy. In fact, Jeff's "Design Style" that I think is so typical of American (broadly speaking -- not just US) aquascapes may be an early step. One of my daughters is a freshman fine arts student. Her major classes this year are 2-D Design and 3-D Design. In her classes they learn to represent basic designs using relatively simple elements. Oddly, that seems to be about where we are with aquascapes.

Amano is far beyond that stage. He is probably the most mature and most developed aquascaping artist in the world. I doubt there are any of us who can't learn a great deal from him. By contrast, I don't think that the Dutch 'scape has even reached step one. The Dutch aquascape -- while it may be attractive -- is not artistic.

We have a long way to go. Maybe at this point we're a step or two beyond fingerpaintings stuck on the door of the refrigerator. But we aren't far beyond that point. Heck -- most of us still have to take ugly equipment out of our tanks just to make them presentable.


Roger Miller
 

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pineapple said:
One test of art is whether you would allow it in your living room and that is where many Dutch Aquascapes are to be found
I have a beaten-up old futon in my living room. I never thought of it as art :) I guess I'll have to call off our plans to replace it. My wife is not going to like this...

Roger Miller
 

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Leopardess said:
I've noticed that many people will say that new things should be tried and that sometimes we should break away from some of the molds that seem to be forming....yet, when a person does this, the comments they get often reflect the attitude that "we don't do that" or "you can't do that." I wonder why this is?
Usually the "molds" are the result of common practice. At some point the ideas progress from a general experience to the stage of a rule. Often many of the people who parrot the rule don't really understand how or why it came to be.

I was thinking earlier about posting this but decided to wait until the AGA pics were up (great tanks, btw). Now, I use difformis as the foregroud/midground plant in my 55g. I use just the tops because I really like their frilly quality and they are light enough for cories to navigate in near the substrate. Everytime someone sees them, they say "those are midground plants, or background plants." Why is this? Why, if the plant is kept to short height, must it still be a mid/back/ground plant?
We like our categories. In this case, people who don't think that H. difformis can be used as a foreground probably haven't been at it very long. H. difformis used to be used failrly commonly that way. Hydrocotyl leucocephela is another midground/background plant that is sometimes pinned down and used in a foreground. That use was once more common than it seems to be now. We have more foreground options then we used to have. I think that's why those plants have fallen out of common use as foregrounds.

What was the response when someone first took a floating plant and forced it to "sink" using hair nets, wires, threads, tacks, etc and had to trim it regularly to keep it from dying?
Takashi Amano (using Riccia) was the first I know of to do that. Of course, the reaction was very positive.

Roger Miller
 

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Well, in the case of judge's comments I wouldn't take it too seriously. Recall that the judges were reviewing and in some cases commenting on ~120 different tanks. I think that judges tend to determine whether or not an entry is a top contender then for those that are not in the top tier they provide (if anything) a simple statement to justify their placement. Usually those statements seem pretty canned. Been there. Done that.

This year there were a number of comments about stem plants in the foreground -- it seems to be a theme. I'm not sure exactly what inherent problem is posed by stem plants in the foreground. Another common comment was that an aquascape could not be easily maintained -- which overlooks the fact that some people thrive on the time and detailed attention that some aquascapes require. And my all-time least favorite comment; the aquascape (of a part thereof) needs a little more time to grow in -- which can be said a number of different ways. The statement presumes that the aquascape does not represent the aquascaper's intent, that the judge's vision is probably what the aquascaper really intends, and that given a little more time the aquascape will tend to take on that appearance.

I know that Karen is familiar with using H. difformis as a foreground. Perhaps she tried it and that is her considered opinion. Regardless, I wouldn't expect her to deliver a treatise on the subject. You need to take the judge's comments in context; sometimes they are useful and sometimes they aren't.

All that said, I think Phil did a great job on the comments that I've read. Even for tanks like mine that weren't real competitive he seemed to put a lot of effort into well-considered and well expressed comments. Ricky's comments also were often very well put and much to the point. He just didn't comment as much as Phil.


Roger Miller
 

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gnatster said:
That certainly kills one very good reason to enter, if some of the judges feedback should be taken lightly how can an entrant learn from mistakes?
I would suggest that getting judge's comments was never a very good reason for entering the AGA contest. If you want useful comments on your aquascape the best way to get them is to post a photo on this or other forums and ask people what they think. You will generally get much more informative feedback then you can get from the one or two lines that the judges can usually afford to give you, and you have the opportunity to talk out the details.

To get back to the original topic of this thread, contests like the AGA, ADA, AB or NBAT (Dutch) contest tend to discourage creativity. They tend to create a uniform standard for what is "good" in aquascaping and reward adherence to those rules over creativity.

I don't think that's an entirely bad thing. Before the contests most of us were like teenage artists -- we had a wealth of ideas, but we were short on the technique necessary to make those ideas appealing to others. The contests give us all an opportunity to refine our technique, to compare our work to others and to judge the quality of our ideas. The contests also encourage people to do their best work, then put that work in front of a larger audience then would otherwise get to see it. That encourages more people to participate in the hobby.

It is perhaps inevitable that as we understand more about which ideas are most valuable and realize the larger investment of time and energy necessary to make those ideas work that fewer experiments will hit the airwaves. It seems like a process of maturation.

Just the same, without encouraging creativity I think this hobby eventually falls into a rut and slowly dies of chronic boredom. We should find ways to make those new ideas more important.

Roger Miller
 
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