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Re: Amano's Contest

Arthur wrote:
"We've discussed PAM a bit already.  Is this true?
That artistry and layout were a focus of PAM?  I
haven't seen enough issues to know the answer.  But
from what I have seen, the answer would be "no."

I don't think that its very fair to diss PAM for what it lacked in
aquascaping or "art" articles. The only real thing that PAM lacked was
support from the community it was intended to serve - and that's not a
criticism of the magazine, its editorial policy nor its content. No magazine
can focus solely on one topic in a hobby as small and as diverse as this and
they all evolve over time. You can go on all you like about "art" but unless
someone knows the basics its kind of difficult to reach the level of "art"
in any endeavor. The articles in PAM provided a solid grounding in how
things work in our tanks, and I'm sure that given the opportunity and the
time, articles of a more "artistic" nature might have appeared in future
issues. Not enough people were willing to subscribe to make it a viable
option. For that, I am truly sad, because we all lose.

While some may decry our collective failure to properly address the "art"
issue, a quick review of the posts made both here and in other forums shows
that many people still need a lot of help with the basics and I certainly
can't fault PAM for providing solid information in that area. And most
threads on "art" tend to die relatively quickly.

"Aside from copyright issues, and what you think of
Amano, I don't think many people will argue that the
quality of aquascapes in the 2001 ADA contest wasn't

Please don't think that I don't admire Mr. Amano - I personally consider the
man an artist and I feel that we all have a lot to learn from him and from
his aquascapes. I just don't feel the need to grovel at the mention of his
name, nor to duplicate his efforts down to the last sprig of glosso. His
approach to his art is Eastern and is a wonderfully refreshing viewpoint. It
has the ability to open our eyes to the possibilities which exist and should
help many people learn to express their own ideas, when used correctly.

I experienced a similar level of awakening when I first encountered the
photographer Robert Frank's book "The Americans", which revolutionized
photojournalism back in the late 50's and early 60's. I had the very good
fortune to meet and get to know Mr. Frank and he offered me a great deal of
encouragement with my own photographic efforts. But I shall always remember
that he emphasized to me that I should find my own path and not follow his.
You don't become an artist by imitating someone else. You can learn the
process but you have to learn to look through your own eyes. In a similar
manner, looking through the book "Cape Light" which features the lush
landscapes of Joel Meyerowitz, can  help an aspiring aquascaper become more
aware of space and proportion. Another photographer who has taught me a lot
about "selective seeing" was Freeman Patterson, who has published a number
of very beautiful books and images designed to help people learn to look at
the world around them through their own eyes and not through someone else's.

Aquascaping cannot (or at least should not) be reduced to the level of
"paint by numbers" where you _have_ to have a lawn of this plant, and a
smattering of that color in order for it to be correct. Learn to look beyond
the obvious and actually feel the scene. Inspiration can come from many
places, not merely the pages of an aquarium magazine. When I read some of
the judge's comments made in both year one and year two of the AGA Contest,
I had to think for a minute to figure out where each person was coming from
with their comments. It is clear that in some instances the comments were
highly subjective, but that's life. All criticism should be helpful and if
understood appropriately, can be.

"Frankly, it seems like Mr. Purchase wants to criticize
people who enter the contest, or dissuade people from
entering it."

No, I am not criticizing people for entering the Contest, nor attempting to
dissuade them from entering it - like you, I feel that it is truly a case of
"the more, the merrier". Opportunities where people can display their
efforts and receive feedback are invaluable for learning. But I stand by my
comments about where people are more likely to receive good feedback. The
ADA event selects for display and comments upon only a portion of the
entries received. The AGA event displays all the entries and invites
feedback and commentary from both the judges and the general public (via the
People's Choice Award).

"And a separate question might be, how come the AGA
gets so few entries, internationally-speaking?  Some
sort of advertisement/promotion might be in order."

I wasn't involved with the second iteration of the AGA event, but I can tell
you that I was very pleased with the international entries we received in
year one. As I have stated here before, anything done by the AGA is done by
volunteers from within our own ranks - nobody is on any corporate payroll
and what publicity is generated has to be obtained via the good graces of
the editors of the various hobbyist magazines and through word of mouth.
With all due respect to Mr. Amano and his organization, they didn't even
bother to respond to my queries during the planning stages for year one of
the AGA event. If the AGA event didn't (or doesn't) meet your needs or
expectations, get INVOLVED in planning and executing the next one, or
suggest alternatives or improvements to make it more helpful and or useful
to you. Just don't ignore it.

Many people obviously don't feel that their aquascapes are quite ready for
"prime time", or they might fear the feedback they might receive. This is
unfortunate, because those who need help most won't receive it. I would
encourage everyone to enter and or display their efforts, in whatever forum
they can - it will take time but gradually the "level" of everyone's
aquascapes should improve by such sharing.

The folks who volunteered to plan and implement events such as the
Chattanooga conference and the AGA Contest do so of their own free will and
out of a love of the hobby. They are giving something back, without any
expectation of thanks or praise.

"I credit Amano with really giving people something to
aspire to.  He has done *a lot* for the hobby/art.
And he doesn't say "do what I do."  He says, follow
your own path, find your own inspiration.  Look around
you, wherever you live, for inspiration.  You've got
to respect that."

This is all very, very true and I agree with you completely. That is my
whole point - people should look at Amano's aquascapes and learn from them -
not to recreate them slavishly but to learn to look at the world around them
in their own unique way and to apply that sort of vision to their
aquascaping efforts..

James Purchase