What is Wabi-Sabi?

wabi sabi

According to the Japanese tradition, it is said to be a kind of philosophy that states that something which is beautiful is transient and imperfect. Wabi-Sabi the combination of two words which come up with a new definition is a philosophy which is coming up in accordance with the Buddhist teaching of ‘Three marks of Existence’. Here the Three Marks of Existence are namely ‘impermanence’, ‘suffering’, and ’emptiness’. If the Buddhist point of view is considered it explains that Life and Art are both beautiful and enchanting but not due to the point that they Perfect or immutable but due to the fact that they are imperfect and transient. When there is a slight gloomy ambiance created around you while understanding this concept that is when you have begun to know what Wabi Sabi actually is.  The acceptance of the fact that Life is not perfect and permanent but is full of hardships, suffering that there is nothing which would last forever, the things, in reality, are hard and roughly shaped, is what the Japanese philosophy of understanding about natural processes and pleasures.

Unlike the Western culture where beauty is perfect and well shaped, the processes in life should be symmetrical and end up with a fine finish. The Japanese philosophy of beauty in imperfection leads to the gateway where on realized the hard facts and figures out what is actual beauty.  MEANINGS AND INFLUENCE OF THE WABI-SABI AESTHETICS  These two words when not combined together end up of to different meaning with nothing left in common as the term Wabi would stand to explain the despondency of living in nature or being distant from the society. Whereas the other half of the term i.e. Sabi actually means shriveled or dry. As the time flew at some point during the 14th century there were some different meaning for the same words and the term Wabi now explained the healthy and affirmative aspects of living alone in nature, an explanation to simplicity. The term Sabi thereafter describing the beauty in aging, the experience which is understood by the scars. This optimization in the meaning of these two words and coming rapidly in limelight was due to Buddhism, as the Buddhist society in the 14th century were greatly influenced by the philosophy and they saw this theory as a great booster towards the enlightenment.

Though there were a number of engulfed artistic approaches which were the effects from the Chinese culture, eventually Wabi-Sabi was adopted as the distinct Japanese traditional aesthetic. Looking more deeply into this philosophy if we consider an engineer’s view to look upon the meaning then the term Wabi would be understood as imperfection in quality of some object and the term Sabi would define the not so perfect dependency or mortality of an object.  In Japan the philosophy of beauty is imperfect and transient is so omnipresent that one would very rarely observe it. They are present everywhere, from the smallest to largest possible examples one could take, in Japan this philosophy is wide notices in the pottery which is used for the drinking tea, in the materials used to construct the temple of Kyoto, including the gardens and also the old faces of elderly people which represents the experience and change in the century.

INFLUENCING THE JAPANESE ARTWORKS Not only the lifestyle of human beings but also the art and design are highly influenced by this philosophy. One could find them in many of the Japanese artworks in the form of different philosophies such as Zen and Mahayana, these two are the example of the Beauty in imperfection ‘wabi-sabi’ aesthetics. This Japanese traditional aesthetic is a very vast topic of discussion in many of the conferences regarding designs as well in different renowned art galleries. The presence of this aesthetic is almost all over the magazine which is related to decoration, fashion and design both domestic and international.  As this Philosophy is said to be having a taste of desolation, but it’s involvement and influence on little things have made it an experience of delightfulness in reality, in roughly shaped edges, in flaws of objects etc.

wabi-sabi design
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This Japanese aesthetic is the predecessor of the present modern theory that lies on the facts of perfectly finished places, smooth and creamy architectural beauty which is exactly the opposite of its predecessor that explains that the modernism is nothing natural and real but clearly a technical mask of creativity. Some of the Japanese artwork in which one can notice the aesthetics clearly are listed below:

  • Honkyoku: A representative in the field of music, it is the traditional music named shakuhachi which is played by the wandering Zen Monks.
  • Ikebana: A generous arrangement of the flowers in an assembly
  • Bonsai: Highlighting the way of how time passed and the natural process cycle are the design of snags and hollow trunks. Some other examples are the Japanese gardens, Japanese poetry, Japanese tea ceremony etc. In Japan, now both the philosophies are running parallel to each other, coexisting with each other making impacts accordingly on everything. But Wabi-Sabi has a huge influence on the Japanese culture despite modernism character now involved in the Japanese culture.

Featured image source: https://mom.maison-objet.com/en/selection/87/wabi-sabi

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