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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'll also be taking ADA/Amano/AGA layout suggestions to post here. Just PM me on which tank you would like to see here.

Aquarium:



Questions an ADA judge would ask (taken from contest booklet...they judge on creativity, composition, fish choice, creation of natural atmosphere, aquarium condition, and viability):

1) Does the aquascape make an original creative impression to the viewers?

2) Is the aquascape composed well (is there compositional balance within the aquascape)?

3) Are the aquatic plants appropriately positioned within the aquascape? Does the balance exist in the colors and shapes of the plants used?

4) Do you feel harmony between the fish and the aquarium layout?

5) Is the aquascape laid out well making a natural looking atmosphere?

Some questions of my own:

1) What compositional rules does this layout follow? Which compositional rules does it break?

2) What are the main elements in this layout? How do they work together harmoniously (or unharmoniously)?

3) What type of atmosphere/impression does this layout seem to create for the viewer?

Just questions to help aid discussion. However, discussion can head in directions that have nothing to do with the above questions (but still relate to the above aquascape).

Carlos
 

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tsunami said:
1) Does the aquascape make an original creative impression to the viewers?
Actually this looks to me like a Thomas Kinkade painting, For instance

or


2) Is the aquascape composed well (is there compositional balance within the aquascape)?
Very well balanced. The bright reds might cover a slightly too-large area. The sense of depth is pretty amazing, and even enhanced by the slight cloudiness in the water.

3) Are the aquatic plants appropriately positioned within the aquascape? Does the balance exist in the colors and shapes of the plants used?
The placement of red plants is very effective. The right foreground seems a little busy. Probably one of those plant species is unnecessary.

5) Is the aquascape laid out well making a natural looking atmosphere?
This image does not seem at all natural to me.

Some questions of my own:

1) What compositional rules does this layout follow? Which compositional rules does it break?
Use of the golden section isn't obvious. The plants are arranged in very "Dutch" groups which is a little unusual for Amano.

2) What are the main elements in this layout? How do they work together harmoniously (or unharmoniously)?
The mid-ground funnel focusing attention on hole in the upper center, framed by red plants; the bright surface and the dark foreground.

3) What type of atmosphere/impression does this layout seem to create for the viewer?
Like the Kinkade pictures, a little tacky.

Roger Miller
 

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I think the main design element is based on an off-beat symmetricity.

"Over the tree line" one can see light to the back. The viewer is given an ambiguous escape route. A good deal of front-back depth is implied with lines and light (colour of plants implying light).

To say one likes or dislikes such a work of art is really rather irrelevant. It is a work of art.

"Aquascape" is a strange term. Many of these designs (not only Amano aquariums) use a terrestrial landscape as the metaphor, whether it be a Chinese "shan shui" (mountain water) or an English (or Dutch) Country Garden. Aquatic view emulating nature as we know it on land.

Andrew Cribb
 

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What this photo has in common with the Kinkade images posted by Rodger Miller is 1 point perspective. From how steep the glass angles appear at the sides of the tank I guess this to be a corner tank. A corner tank would be very prone to 1 point perspective layouts. Personaly, I work to avoid a single triangle foreground or 1 point perspective. I don't like feeling cornered, a 1 point perspective often makes me feel like I am being inexorably funneled into a final destination. Those Kinkade images play with a feeling of having so comfortably arrived at that destination that sentimental pleasure alone will suffice human intelect ...barf. While this scape is somewhat sentimental it doesn't make simplistic presumtions about human culture. It elevates the value set promoted by ADA and uses a nice mix of slow growing species to create an illusion of permanance.

Now one might argue that, the ADA value set is as calculated and contrived as a Kinkade painting but I do not share this conviction. In my opinion, the ADA value set reflects a cultural/spiritual perspective that has endured for hundreds, if not thousands of years, while a Kinkade painting panders to shallow childish sentementality. In embracing the meditative contemplation of nature, the ADA value set opens up many interrelated avenues of understanding. I never feel cornered when veiwing a well rendered example; even when that example is built into a corner.
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Jeff
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Surprisingly, this aquarium is a 90x45x45cm --a typical 50g.

As for the unnaturalness bits...
There is a lake here with homogenous mounds of a Hemianthus sp. interspersed with brightly colored bunches of Ludwigia repens, spikes of hairgrass, and limestone rocks set at angles. If I would shoot an underwater photo of these shorelines, most would say they are contrived aquascapes.

It would be interesting to read what people think when they imagine a "natural" looking tank. I think many of Amano's layouts look quite natural, judging by what I see in the many bodies of water here in south Florida.

But don't let that continue the observations/comments from other readers...

Carlos
 

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Having just spent a week or so snorkeling around two lakes in Vermont, I can imagine the different views of "natural" lacustrine flora (and fauna) we have seen. Natural in Vermont means slates, some marble, contorted rocks, sandy shorelines with plenty of red valisneria sp. and Myriophyllum spicatum (Eurasian milfoil), various types of algae....

"The truth is stranger than fiction" as they say in publishing.

Andrew Cribb
 

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tsunami said:
It would be interesting to read what people think when they imagine a "natural" looking tank.
It would be interesting to read why people think it is important for something as obviously contrived as an aquarium to appear natural. I'm reasonably happy with aquariums that look surreal. I'm even happy with aquariums that look like gardens--they don't even have to look like Japanese gardens to make me happy.

Once we work out the importance of looking natural then we can start to work on how something can look both "natural" and "creative"; the first would seem to imply the absence of human influence and the second would be meaningless without human influence.

Roger Miller
 

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Jeff Kropp said:
Now one might argue that, the ADA value set is as calculated and contrived as a Kinkade painting but I do not share this conviction. In my opinion, the ADA value set reflects a cultural/spiritual perspective that has endured for hundreds, if not thousands of years, while a Kinkade painting panders to shallow childish sentementality. In embracing the meditative contemplation of nature, the ADA value set opens up many interrelated avenues of understanding.
Apples and oranges. If we're talking about value sets, then we have to acknowledge that the Thomas Kinkade value set is that of a devout Anglo-Saxon Protestant -- Kinkade's art is pretty straightforward in this respect. Indeed, Kinkade is straightforward to the point of being ham-fisted, which is why I'm not a fan of his work either. But this lack of subtlety has little to do with the relative merits of the artists' values. Protestant Christianity as a "cultural/spiritual perspective" has a pretty considerable history, itself.

I also have to raise my eyebrows at the ethereal terms -- "cultural/spiritual perspective," "the meditative contemplation of nature," "interrelated avenues of understanding." These sound like hedges against more concrete definitions of Amano's value set. If that value set really has endured for centuries, it probably has a name, so why are we fumbling for the right words here?

Of course, the Amano value set doesn't have a name because it is a thoroughly postmodern product of its times. It is shaped by cultures and histories, of course, but it borrows liberally from various contexts, with little respect for the sanctity of any one value system. This is not a knock -- rather a nod to the complexity of a supposed ADA value set.

The complexity makes it hard to apply labels. There are superficial (again, not using this term negatively) traces of "Zen" and Shinto in Amano, but in his books he has also demonstrated the influence of African (esp. West African) native cultures -- and, of course, this cultural pastiche is tempered by an ecumenical devotion to the scientific method.

One convenient label that I think Jeff hinted at, and which Amano encourages, is that the ADA approach is somehow quintessentially "Japanese." Amano writes in NAW 1: "This unique sense of nature, this wabi-sabi, pervades every aspect of Japanese life, from gardening and bonsai to the tea ceremony and ikebana... to many aspects of daily life." This is not an uncommon sentiment. To me, it smacks of oversimplification and orientalism, especially since the Japanese wabi-sabi "other" is often cast against the European/American/Western occident. You can observe this frequently in Amano's writings. Even ignoring the impossible complexity volatility of a label like "Japanese," the orientalist stance doesn't work because it fails to acknowledge Amano's penchant for cross-cultural appropriation.

"Nature" is the other other label we seek to apply, but others on this board have already examined the difficulties there. To recap: What the hell is "nature"?

One point that needs to be made: Amano has never held his aquascapes up to the restrictive standard that many on this board seek to apply, in which the "natural" aquarium resembles an aquatic environment in the wild. Amano aquascapes use natural forms as a source for inspiration, but the resulting works are evocations, rather than approximations, of their natural subjects.

Amano also (rightly, IMO) rejects the nature-vs.-artifice binary. One of the essays accompanying an aquascape in NAW 1 is entitled "Artifice Over Nature," and it concludes with this quote: "Yes, such a beautiful waterscape doesn't exist in nature. Only artifice made by human hands can attain this beauty."

Amano regards nature as his inspiration, but he also considers his human artifice as an extension of nature's beauty. Artifice can both emulate nature and surpass it. This is a more nuanced view than the black-and-white nature/artifice opposition that some are attributing to Amano and ADA.

It's also relevant to note here that nature is not held up as the golden standard by which an aquascape is judged -- that honor goes to the even more difficult concept of "beauty." So what is beauty? I'm not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole.

This is not to say that other conceptions of "nature" as it pertains to aquascaping are incorrect, but since we are using ADA criteria, it's helpful to consider the ADA perspective. I believe that Amano's own work and writings demonstrate that the ADA value set is too amorphous, complex, and occasionally self-contradictory to be summed up as the "contemplation of nature." It's convenient to use words like "cultural," "spiritual," "Japanese," or "nature" in this exercise, but we have to recognize that these are loaded terms, defying a pat, concrete definition.

This is especially true in the case of a postmodern artist like Amano who employs signifiers with little regard for the original context. If you take his yen for Zen too seriously, you'll get confused -- Amano's "Zen" is a purposefully superficial gloss of the real thing. Same with Shinto, same with East-vs.-West, etc. For Amano, connotation is more important than denotation.
 

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I am interested to read Jeff's response, if he choses to make one. For my part I will start here...
TPIRman said:
"Nature" is the other other label we seek to apply, but others on this board have already examined the difficulties there. To recap: What the hell is "nature"?

One point that needs to be made: Amano has never held his aquascapes up to the restrictive standard that many on this board seek to apply, in which the "natural" aquarium resembles an aquatic environment in the wild. Amano aquascapes use natural forms as a source for inspiration, but the resulting works are evocations, rather than approximations, of their natural subjects.

Amano also (rightly, IMO) rejects the nature-vs.-artifice binary. One of the essays accompanying an aquascape in NAW 1 is entitled "Artifice Over Nature," and it concludes with this quote: "Yes, such a beautiful waterscape doesn't exist in nature. Only artifice made by human hands can attain this beauty."

Amano regards nature as his inspiration, but he also considers his human artifice as an extension of nature's beauty. Artifice can both emulate nature and surpass it. This is a more nuanced view than the black-and-white nature/artifice opposition that some are attributing to Amano and ADA.
I think you have provided us with some interesting points about what "natural" is not.. That leaves me still wondering what "natural" is. I don't think this is a case where the process of elimination is a useful tool for deduction. From your earlier discussion it seems you believe that Amano picks and chooses his concepts to fit his purposes rather than to meet a fixed definition. In that case is it likely that in the context of the ADA contest "looks natural" means nothing more than "looks like something Amano might do"?

Returning briefly to things that aren't natural -- and to a more concrete critique of the picture that Carlos offered this week -- I'd like to point out a few features that prompted my comment that the aquascape did not look natural.

I've never seen blue (er, cyan?) crypts like those in the far right midground and I can't regard them as looking natural -- even given wide leeway in how that term might be defined. I also don't think that yellowish-cream is a natural or healthy color for the narrow leafed java fern in the right optical center of the photo. More generally I think that both the color saturation and the contrast in the image are not only unnatural, but probably not authentic; they bear more similarity to the bizzaro-world colors used by Kinkade than they do to anything I've seen in an aquarium.

Obviously these comments address the image more than they address the aquascape.

It's also relevant to note here that nature is not held up as the golden standard by which an aquascape is judged -- that honor goes to the even more difficult concept of "beauty." So what is beauty? I'm not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole.
As I understand from Carlos' description, ADA does ask the judges to use "natural" as a criteria for ranking aquascapes. That's how the whole issue came up. ADA does not ask the the judges to rank entries based on their beauty. None of the contests I'm familiar with ask the judges to rank aquascapes on their beauty. I'm not saying it doesn't happen.

Roger Miller
 

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Has anyone seen a narrow leaved java fern in nature? What about a Crypt wendtii? I think it would be hard to say what is natural and what is not without seeing these naturally. Now plants will definantly look yellow in nature... go outside in the morning in florida. And the crypt being that shade of blue does not look weird to me eithere.... go outside under some shade, certain plants look blue.

These are just observations from living in the woods. I personally think it looks natural... just the best of nature.
 

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TPIRman,

Thanks for your critical contribution it was a very enjoyable read! It makes me sooo happy to cause raised eyebrows that result in well worded opinions. I especially liked the part where you challenged my unsupported generalities ...very deft. You are right, I am speaking off the top of my head, my entire argument is based on flimsy assumtions. One could say I was speaking out my ass.

Your cultural contrast of Amano with Kinkade touches on what I consider their primary similarities: both market their product to established cultural value sets that promote conceptual loyalty. When one looks at an Amano presentation, its marketing function is always part of its impact. In this case the ADA logo plays an obvious role in its marketing intent. Aqua Design Amano and the Nature Aquarium style that it promotes have carefully crafted a branded image. One cannot look at an known Amano scape without being influenced by its branded status. Perhaps, when discussing how "natural" a scape seems, we are actually practicing a condition of our marketing susceptibility while promoting conceptual loyalty?
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Jeff
 

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Roger Miller said:
I think you have provided us with some interesting points about what "natural" is not.. That leaves me still wondering what "natural" is. I don't think this is a case where the process of elimination is a useful tool for deduction. From your earlier discussion it seems you believe that Amano picks and chooses his concepts to fit his purposes rather than to meet a fixed definition. In that case is it likely that in the context of the ADA contest "looks natural" means nothing more than "looks like something Amano might do"?
That last question is a great one, and my guess would be a qualified "yes" -- and this is no tragedy. It just means that ADA embraces the value set of its founding artist. In my view, Amano isn't just creating aquascapes, he's creating his own concept of "nature" through those aquascapes. Nowhere (AFAIK) does Amano explicitly define nature/natural, yet he applies those terms liberally throughout his work. Amano defines nature only through the context provided by his aquascapes and (to a lesser degree) his writings.

Given this, how else can ADA judges evaluate what constitutes a "natural" realm? They must look to Amano, because in the ADA realm, his work determines what constitutes a "natural" sensibility. Again, I don't think this is a particularly cynical observation -- after all, the ADA judges must employ some culturally-influenced notion of "natural," and Amano is just ensuring that his vision is the guiding ideal for this particular contest.

Amano resists using more linguistically explicit terms to define nature because that would break down his notion of wabi-sabi -- the ineffable Japanese trait of just "knowing" nature. If you can put nature into words, then the mystique of wabi-sabi is lost.

Because Amano's "nature" is entirely dependent on context, I wasn't attempting a process of elimination as much as examining some of the more prominent contexts in which Amano employed that term. Amano never says what "nature" is, but how/where does he use it? IMO, that's the only way to gain insight into his value set.

One quick note -- Amano does pick and choose his cultural referents, but I would say he does so as a part of the creative process rather than to suit a pre-determined purpose.

Roger Miller said:
As I understand from Carlos' description, ADA does ask the judges to use "natural" as a criteria for ranking aquascapes. That's how the whole issue came up. ADA does not ask the the judges to rank entries based on their beauty. None of the contests I'm familiar with ask the judges to rank aquascapes on their beauty. I'm not saying it doesn't happen.
No, you're absolutely right, I doubt judging explicitly on "beauty" happens in any contests. My argument is that Amano considers beauty, rather than nature, to be the highest standard. The quote I included above ("Such a beautiful waterscape doesn't exist in nature. Only artifice made by human hands can attain this beauty.") demonstrates that Amano's value set considers nature only part of beauty.

You are correct that "natural" is a criteria for ranking aquascapes, but it is only one of many criteria. Looking at the five questions, the first three are concerned with visual composition and impact, while only the last two incorporate the "nature" perspective. In other words, the ADA criteria consider both artifice and nature. Considering this in conjunction with the quote I cite above, it would seem that the criteria are designed to approximate Amano's conception of "beauty." This is why I argue that "beauty," while never explicitly referenced, is the ultimate standard by which Amano intends to judge aquascapes. The criteria are a means to make Amano's artistic ideal of "beauty" more generally applicable.

It might be fair to ask, "so what?" -- one could easily say that all aquascaping contests' primary goal is to determine the most "beautiful" tank. I think this ADA analysis is worthwhile because it allows us insight into a notable artist's perspective on these basic issues of beauty, nature, etc.

Jeff Kropp said:
When one looks at an Amano presentation, its marketing function is always part of its impact. In this case the ADA logo plays an obvious role in its marketing intent. Aqua Design Amano and the Nature Aquarium style that it promotes have carefully crafted a branded image. One cannot look at an known Amano scape without being influenced by its branded status. Perhaps, when discussing how "natural" a scape seems, we are actually practicing a condition of our marketing susceptibility while promoting conceptual loyalty?
Thank you for your kind words, Jeff! As you might have guessed from the rest of this post, I agree with what you said (and said much more succinctly). The term "conceptual loyalty" in particular hits home with me. We are indeed practicing conceptual loyalty, and while I'd like to believe that the elegance and emotional resonance of Amano's "nature" ideal plays the larger part in its appeal, the marketing aspect of it is indisputable. Many of us have literally bought into Amano's style of thinking not just because of his skill as an artist, but also because of his skill as a marketer. Of course, I talk about "artist" and "marketer" as though they're separate things, but like so many great postmodern artists, Amano blurs the line.
 
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