Wabi Sabi:

photo by Lisa Z Lindahl
old plastered wall in 1800s jailhouse

Evolving out of the ancient Japanese Tea Ceremony traditions and still thriving in today’s world, Wabi-Sabi is a decidedly non-Western and non-Pop Culture method of perceiving beauty. Some, on “automatic pilot” might even perceive a “wabi sabi” object as ugly, or perhaps just ready to be thrown out, for Wabi-Sabi is the beauty to be found in those objects and things that are not perfect, but imperfect, and usually impermanent or even incomplete.

I hope it is clear by now that True Beauty is not a component or version of the shallow notion of beauty that is all-pervasive in Western culture today.   “Destruction” is as vital to creation as “construction” and so is an integral part of True Beauty, its manifestation.  Wabi Sabi is an expression of this.

The Japanese honor and codify this knowingness with their celebration of “Wabi-Sabi.” This centuries-old concept is an aesthetic of imperfection and austerity, an affirmation of melancholy. It is the beauty of peeling paint on an old board; it is the beauty of the withered, weathered and scarred. Further, it insinuates simplicity and quietude. This idea of Beauty also celebrates the changes that come with aging, and the cycles of change. The word “patina” is often found in descriptions and definitions of Wabi-Sabi. This validates and celebrates aging and entropy as an attractive and pleasing point in what The Way of Beauty identifies as “the Beauty Continuum.”

The origin of the term “wabi sabi” is embedded in ancient Japanese history.  Originally these words had quite different meanings. Sabi may have originally inferred something like ‘desiccated’, or ‘withered.’ Wabi meant the misery of living alone in nature, far from society.  Sometime around the 14th century, the meanings of both words began to evolve into a statement of  agreeable aesthetic values, a term to describe the pleasing visuals and details to be found in common objects of everyday life, even as — especially as — the marks of their usage showed.   The definition of Wabi-Sabi is blurry, still today.  Plenty of writers and their pages dwell on its many fascinating nuances.

photo by Lisa Z Lindahl
water stagnating between  beach rocks

Think old fishing dory with its paint rubbed off, sitting on a misty shore.  Or a tired tractor rusting in place in a fallow field.  Moss growing on a rotten fence post….  It is an ephemeral and mystical kind of beauty.

I find it unique and refreshing that Wabi-Sabi embraces the man-made as easily as the natural world. This is an important aspect of this concept of Beauty. It blurs the distinction and/or evaluation  regarding natural Beauty, man-made art vs. art of nature.

I think that if “rustic” and “elegant” were to marry, they would produce the beauty of Wabi-Sabi.



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