Most of this blog won't be pretty today. It just won’t.
Well, it needs to be a bit aggressive, I think. Beating around the bush is just too subtle sometimes.
I love constructive criticism. I love suggestions, dialogue, and discussions. And even disagreements. It's what makes what we do here so fun. There is no "right or wrong way" to play with aquariums, IMHO. Just ways that might be more successful, sustainable, or replicable by others.
Yet, there are people out there in the hobby who are so mired in their own interpretation of cult-like groupthink that they just can't get out of their own heads.
SO much dogma and even anger...it's weird. It creates strange personas. Fanboys. People who are so in love with the identity that their interpretation gives them that it fuels them to lash out at anyone who does something different.
The other day, I received an email from some guy who claimed that what we are "pushing" at Tannin is an "..irresponsible, un-artistic insult to aquascaping." And further, a "sloppy, undisciplined, and poorly thought-out version of 'Nature Aquarium.'"
Okay, fanboy- game on.
It get's a bit stranger...I mean, he took the time to write...so I'll take the time to share it with you.
He went on to further insult our community as "rubes" ( Look that word up, lol) who are "largely misinformed, incompetent 'Nature Aquarists' (WTF are THOSE? ) who are exposing their fishes to dangerous, unhealthy conditions by following your ideas and so-called 'techniques' to create their aquascapes." ( the "aquascapes" part made me laugh, because, as we've said 1,000 times, it's not just a "look" we're after here...and of course, he didn't get that…). And everything was compared to "Nature Aquarium"- or his scary, cult like adherence to it.
We're selling the aquatic version of "snake oil", I guess, in his mind.
Okay, normally, I don't let this kind of stuff get to me.
In fact, I love it, because it's good to stir people's souls and move them- good or bad. I enjoy being a bit of an agitator when required. I don't care about the criticisms...because someone has to tell shit like it is, right?
And this could be a "teaching moment." A chance to once and for all, get this idea out there. To perhaps start decent discussion, I suppose, that may be therapeutic to some people... It is to me.
But this guy- Wow! He "hit me" on all the points that he felt were important to his cooked up "us versus them" paranoid freak out. His "criticism", in addition to being a window on his insecurities as a person, exposed a deep "cancer" that lives at the heart of some parts of the hobby. Fear. Resentment. Groupthink. "My way is the ONLY way!"
The need to choose "one side or the other…"
First off, for the 10,000th time, I have no idea why people keep comparing what we do here at Tannin, and in the botanical-style aquarium "movement" to Amano's idea of "Nature Aquarium." I just don't. The only thing our ideas have in common is that we keep aquariums and we use the words "Nature or "natural" a lot to describe the stuff we're into. Or maybe there is more in common, right?
Yet, why the need for them to attack?
How come, every time someone talks about natural interpretations of wild habitats, some people feel an immediate need to bow to the "Nature Aquarium" cult and make sure that they somehow “defend its honor”- as if we had any intent whatsoever to criticize it. I can tell you for myself that when I do my work, I’m sure as hell not thinking of “Nature Aquarium” in any way- good or bad. I just do my thing. And I doubt most "Nature Aquarium" fans are thinking of our stuff, either.
Yeah, when I talk about the stuff I do here, I'm not even thinking about comparing what we work with to Amano's ideas. They inspire me, though- indirectly. Why do people think that anything which doesn't perfectly embrace every idea they talk about in the "Nature Aquarium" universe exactly like they do is somehow an insult or and attack on Amano and his ideas?
The hobby isn't some “zero sum game”, where you either pledge your undying loyalty to "Nature Aquarium" or you're some scumbag trying to attack "the body." And news flash: That “movement” isn’t the center of the aquarium universe. Nor was it intended to be. And dogma wasn’t supposed to be a part of it, I’m sure. Having a different viewpoint on hobby things doesn’t make one person right, or the other wrong.
In fact, I think if Amano and I ever talked we'd agree on most everything. Some of his early photos were of dirty, dark, blackwater habitats in The Amazon and elsewhere, which he loved. And I think he'd be pretty pissed off at the way people have turned his ideas into some sort of "cargo cult" over the years. I really don't think that's what he wanted. I know that I wouldn't want that.
And I’m also pretty sure he’d be like, “Who the HELL is Scott Fellman and what is this 'botanical-style aquarium' thing?" 😆 We’re all into our own craft. We’re pretty busy here, too. Even being mentioned in the same context as the work he did is an honor, but I think it’s pretty absurd. As is thinking that our ideas are the "Anti Nature Aquarium" movement or something.
Okay, I AM anti- dickhead- so if our work pisses off the idiots in any other hobby "movement", out there- so be it. Yet, the point of what we do here isn't to diminish the work of anyone else doing some other thing. Absolutely not.
Yes, Amano was one of the great innovators in the hobby.
What he did was provide a technique and philosophy to embrace aspects of Nature and natural processes in the aquarium, and to express ourselves by using the materials which Nature offers- in this case- aquatic plants, rocks, and wood. It changed the aquarium world forever.
However, I'm willing to bet that Amano didn't want-or even expect- his ideas to be held "in stasis", never being evolved nor questioned, and to be considered by the aquarium hobby as the only way to create a beautiful, functional interpretation of Nature. I just don't. And I sure as hell don't think he wanted strange fan-boy drones attacking everyone who expresses a desire to interpret Nature differently.
I really don't get what this guy meant by his particular attack; however, I"m grateful that it gave me the chance to clear up this unspoken weirdness and speak my piece once and for all. For those of you who are offended by this "rebuttal", I'm really sorry- I'm merely trying to explain our POV, and it may come across a bit harsh...
We have to really think about WHY Nature is so compelling. What we need to use it as a muse.
Even the names of these magical places draw us in:
"From the North to the South, Ebudæ into Khartoum
From the deep sea of Clouds to the island of the moon
Carry me on the waves to the lands I've never been
Carry me on the waves to the lands I've never seen
We can sail, we can sail with the Orinoco Flow..."- From the song, "Orinoco Flow" by Enya
The world is filled with exotic, achingly beautiful aquatic environments.
Stuff we could scarcely imagine, but they're real...and amazing, just waiting for us as aquarists to learn more about them, study their unique characteristics and function- appreciate their beauty-and attempt to replicate aspects of them in the aquarium.
By making the effort to do this, we'll understand things about Nature that we never could by simply replicating some other aquarium that some other guy did. Again.
For heaven's sake, PLEASE try something different. Think outside the box. Look at a puddle, a ditch, water flowing through the gutter- ANYTHING that another hobbyist hasn't done according to some specific "rules"- and breathe a bit. You'd be surprised what amazing stuff you can come up with when you look at Nature without a filter or a bias.
Yet, here we go, year after year, arranging rocks in some specified pattern, or throwing wood in our tanks to create some sort of artistic, geometric harmony, without ever thinking about the reasons why rocks, plants, and wood are in aquatic habitats in the first place, and why they are distributed in ways that defy "Golden Ratio" and other human-created concepts...yet still look amazing.
We don't think about Nature as it really is. Not enough, anyways-right?
And sure- we can create another goddam "Nature Aquarium" and vomit it up all over social media, touting this as the only way to appreciate Nature, and criticizing mightily anything which uses words like "Nature or "Natural" that doesn't fit our own tightly held world view- like that fanboy zombie drone guy would want, right? We could do that. But guess what? That would be a direct affront to Mr. Amano and all he worked so hard to share with the hobby.
Yeah, it would, fanboy.
Or, we could work backwards, and look at Nature, sort of like what Amano did-studiy it- and interpret different parts of it, wonder how they could function in our aquariums- unafraid of what it might look like if we don't edit it to conform with the expectations of the aquarium world.
Yeah. We can be bold and simply do what moves us- not what gets us accolades from the "cool kids."
Fuck the "cool kids!" Who are they to tell YOU how to do stuff?
Nature is the real inspiration and guide to everything. The answers we seek are out there- right in front of us. And those wild aquatic habitats? What do we gain by studying them and attempting to recreate them in a more functional, authentic way?
Well, we won't take them for granted before they disappear from the earth forever.
We'll be able to share their wonder with people who have never even heard of some of these places and environments. People who never saw the precious aquatic organisms which reside in them. We can reach people who had never considered how they will impact our planet when they are destroyed by man's encroachments.
That's a good thing to do.
And we at Tannin- I think we're fucking blowing it big time.
I know I need to do better.
We're pushing the idea hard; just not hard enough, or with enough verve.
We'll go harder. Deeper. More literal.
There is something we can do a bit differently than we've been doing in the hobby. We can push the limits harder. We can push our skills further. We can release ourselves of the bondage of the rules that "they" threw together decades ago. We can rethink stuff. We can share more unique interpretations of habitats which, although teeming with life- and tropical fishes- seem to have been ignored as we rush to replicate more "aquarium friendly" ones. Perhaps, ones which are more relatable?
Yet, there they sit. Waiting for us to unlock their secrets.
I've not been good enough at this. I'll do more. I realize that I want to push way farther outside the boundaries of "conventional aquarium work" than I've done before. Because that might motivate others. Maybe, if I'm lucky- inspire others to push out farther into their own unique interpretations of the natural world's limitless aquatic niches.
SO, yeah...Im a bit more free now...A bit lighter, having spoke to this strange "thing" that's been floating out there for a while.
That's the kind of stuff that unless new ideas. It's the kind of motivation that pushes me to go further. And hopefully, does the same to you...
That's what happens when others question our ideas. Our inspirations. Our motivations.
It's what happens when we let Nature really speak to us.
And it's also what happens...When fanboys attack!
Stay brave. Stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay motivated. Stay excited...
And Stay Wet.