The Unexpected Beauty of Wabi-Sabi
As a writer and contemplative person, I enjoy concepts that refocus my attention in new and surprising ways. When we reach midlife, there's a budding awareness that the pursuit of more, the abundant learning of facts, and the relentless jockeying for position isn't as satisfying anymore. So, we start looking internally, and we start recognizing distinctions that reshape our view of what we've grown accustomed to in our world.
For example, when I first started noticing art as an adult, I remember I was most drawn to precision - photographic art, or paintings that mirrored their subject in their closeness to how it actually looked. Little by little, my tastes moved from realism into impressionism, to expressionism, and to abstract - works that are a creation of another mind, another soul that interpret the subject or thought pattern of its creator onto canvas or sculpture. Pieces that make me stop and contemplate, make observations and distinctions that enhance my perspective and understanding of another - our similarities and differences. Or pieces that just tap into some unexplainable feeling inside of me that wants to feel the energy of the artwork, and doesn't need explanation.
One of those concepts is the Japanese art of imperfection, known as Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-sabi is the observation and noticing of aesthetic beauty in simple everyday things, particularly through the natural processes of time and aging - like the gnarled branches of a tree, a weathered chair, a lonely leaf, a rusting car, the crumbled facade of an old building. It evokes words such as authenticity, simplicity, modesty, stillness, reverence, timelessness, asymmetry. The closest English word is likely "rustic", though that doesn't fully capture it.
I'm not entirely certain what draws me to the unexplainable - at least in words. Wabi-Sabi is one of those. A friend of mine who is of Japanese ancestry tells me she has difficulty fully articulating it, and says it can also apply to a way at looking at one's own life - so it's not just focused on things. It has been described as "a profound aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance. It can be felt but rarely verbalized, much less defined. Defining wabi-sabi in physical terms is like explaining the taste of a piece of chocolate by its shape and color to someone who has never tasted it."
I love the chocolate analogy. It reminds me in a scene in the movie "City of Angels" where Nicholas Cage's character - who is an angel, asks Meg Ryan's character - a person, how a bosque pear tastes. She says, "you've never tasted a pear?" And he says, "I want to know how it tastes to you."
Another explanation of Wabi-Sabi is “accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death… It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind.” It is the celebration of the basic, and unique, the imperfect. The translation of the Japanese term wabi is "lonely", which means: "a taste for the simple and the quiet" and incorporates rustic beauty, such as patterns found in straw, bamboo, clay, or stone. It refers to both that which is made by nature and that which is made by man. Sabi refers to the patina of age, the concept that changes due to use may make an object more beautiful and valuable. This incorporates an appreciation of the cycles of life and careful, artful mending of damage. The person credited with first combining the words wabi and sabi into a phrase is the poet Matsuo Bashō. Bashō is most famous for inventing the haiku poetry form.
For the remainder of your understanding of this interesting concept, just click through the pictures on this hub and feel what it means....
Wisdom of the Tao
At birth you are supple and soft.
At death you are stiff and hard.
Grass and trees are pliant and tender when living,
but they are dry and brittle when dead.
Therefore, the stiff and hard are attendants of death,
the supple and soft are attendants of life.
Thus, the hard weapon will be broken.
The mighty tree will invite the axe.
Therefore, the hard and mighty belong below;
the yielding and gentle belong above.
- The Tao Te Ching, Verse 76