Wabi [-sabi]

From the last pages of The Architecture of Happiness:

    [Donald] Keene observed that the Japanese sense of beauty has long sharply differed from its Western counterpart: it has been dominated by a love of irregularity rather than symmetry, the impermanent rather than the eternal and the simple rather than the ornate. The reason owes nothing to climate or genetics, added Keene, but is the result of the actions of writers, painters and theorists, who have actively shaped the sense of beauty of their nation.

It’s encouraging for me to hear that artists, writers and painters, can influence culture for good. I preach this and I believe it, but in American culture it’s often hard to pinpoint any successes along these lines. Perhaps they are there and I’m just not aware of them? Hm, that sounds like a good thesis topic were I to go back for my MFA some year.

I’ve mentioned before that my own aesthetic gravitates towards elements in both traditional Scandinavian and Japanese architecture. The quote above is talking about wabi — referred to as wabi-sabi by Wikipedia — as a driving factor in traditional Japanese aesthetics. This is a new word to me so I’m doing a little more research on the concept.

The idea has its roots in Buddhism, which Wikipedia points out is part of the culture’s quite syncretic belief system. In everyday use, the term wabi-sabi is used very casually without any religious connotations. The crux of the aesthetic centers around three ideals or realities: Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect (according to one Richard Powell).

The tea bowl pictured above is an example of the imperfections aspired to by the wabi-sabi aesthetic.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

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