Analyzing The Artisans Cup: Evolving Methodologies for Judging Bonsai

It’s been nearly three weeks since the inaugural Artisans Cup, and we’ve had ample time to hear people’s feedback and process the event in its entirety. Chelsea and I poured our hearts into doing everything we possibly could have to make The Artisans Cup a success as an exhibition of art and a benchmark of quality that American bonsai can build on. This is not to say The Artisans Cup was in any way a finished product, a capstone achievement, or a normative prescription for how bonsai exhibitions should look. Instead, our aim with The Artisans Cup was to raise the level of thought and consideration with which we approach the art form, and to present the elevated product to the broader public in a manner that helped define bonsai as art. 

There are a lot of discussions to be had about each aspect of the exhibition and the conversation it’s generated. However, the aspect that seems to have evoked the greatest response, and perhaps has the potential to impose the greatest sway on western bonsai’s evolution, is that of exhibition judging and its components. Following the exhibition, Dan Yamins, a bonsai enthusiast who attended the exhibition, offered to share his feedback on the scoring results with us. Dan holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, and had some very interesting insight into the varying methods of judging calculation and some potential advice for how The Artisans Cup could further improve its judging methodology. We are excited by Dan’s analysis and we sincerely appreciate his willingness to offer constructive insight.

Dan Yamins currently works as a Postdoctoral Associate at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Excitingly for the west coast bonsai community, Dan accepted a professorship position at Stanford and will be moving to California in September 2016. In future Artisans Cup exhibitions, to further evolve and improve our judging methodology, we plan to adopt the z-scoring method that he advocates. It’s through this continued expansion of collaborative knowledge and technique that American bonsai will advance and improve. 

Ryan Neil

Download Dr. Yamins' Analysis