„Wabi…sabi? You mean wasabi?”-my husband looked at me astoundedly over breakfast when I told him about the topic I have chosen for today’s post. No, we’re not going to talk about Japanese horseradish today. Instead, we’ll have a closer look at a unique form of aesthetics evolved in Japan called the wabi-sabi. But what is it and how does it work?
By and large, the aesthetics of wabi-sabi focuses on the simplicity and impermanence of objects while appreciating their imperfections. This view is grounded in Buddhist philosophy: the three marks of existence are impermanence, emptiness (lack of self-nature) and suffering. Suffering…? That doesn’t sound good! However, let’s concentrate on the nature of wabi-sabi to learn what suffering has to do with beauty.
Both wabi and sabi are hard do define in English: the former tries to capture the simplicity of nature while the latter describes the beauty that comes only with aging. Today’s definition of wabi-sabi is „the wisdom of the simplicity of nature”, while in art it is described as „flawed beauty”.
Broken cups put together, flaws and marks on otherwise smooth surfaces, a couple of leaves scattered around in the garden: the objects of wabi-sabi–both man-made and natural–are always imperfect and tend to be broken or chipped, too. But once we take the time to observe their impermanent beauty and focus on the here and now, they might bring us closer to our real selves. Furthermore, according to Zen philosophy, these moments of self-absence could be the first steps towards satori, or enlightenment.
Let’s look around the room! How many wabi-sabi objects can we find? Let’s spend some time looking at them!
Wabi-sabi as a form of art: kintsugi
Kintsugi is a technique invented for repairing broken pottery. It does not seem so unique at first, but if we have a closer look at the objects mended this way, we’ll see golden linings in the cracks repaired, since the glue they use is mixed with gold powder. The object’s appearance may change while it functions just the same: this pretty much sums up the philosophy of wabi-sabi, too. What is more, they don’t even try to hide the cracks; instead, they emphasise them with gold. This way, the history of the object is appreciated, adding even more value to its existence. The view of wabi-sabi and kintsugi can be applied to human life as well: our injuries and traumas make us an imperfect whole. However, our imperfections are rooted in our very existence, which is–sadly–impermanent, too. But does beauty really emerge from impermanence and imperfection? Wabi-sabi says so. In the end it’s up to us to accept it.
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