Wabi Sabi

Victor in the studio

Being a Westerner, my understanding of Wabi Sabi and making Wabi Sabi art may take strange detours, sharp turns, loop-de-loops, however I believe what I’m doing is a branch, a twig, a broken matchstick of the essence of Wabi Sabi.

Wikipedia says, “The phrase comes from the two words wabi and sabi. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" . Note also that the Japanese word for rust, is also pronounced sabi.” Accoding to Victor, “Wabi Sabi could also be described as imperfection, is beauty. Wabi Sabi to me could be woman who has puton a lot of facial makeup. She goes to the gym and does a hard, sweaty workout. At the end of the workout, her makeup is running, smeared and streaked across her face. Her body glistens with sweat and her black cocktail dress is soaked through in secret places and not so secret places. This image, for me, is Wabi Sabi. For a traditonal Japenese man or woman, probably not. I could be surprised. And if maybe so, why not.”

Wikipedia also says: “Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and suggest a natural process, i.e. rust, weathered, distressed, warn, fatigued, broken, abused, tattered, torn…

“Andrew Juniper claims, "if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi." Richard R. Powell summarizes by saying "It (wabi-sabi) nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."

“The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant ‘chill’, ‘lean’ or ‘withered’. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

“A good example of this embodiment may be seen in certain styles of Japanese pottery. In Japanese tea ceremony, cups used are often rustic and simple-looking, e.g. Hagi ware, with shapes that are not quite symmetrical, and colors or textures that appear to emphasize an unrefined or simple style. In reality, the cups can be quite expensive and in fact, it is up to the knowledge and observational ability of the participant to notice and discern the hidden signs of a truly excellent design or glaze (akin to the appearance of a diamond in the rough). This may be interpreted as a kind of wabi-sabi aesthetic, further confirmed by the way the glaze is known to change in color with time as tea is repeatedly poured into them (sabi) and the fact that the cups are deliberately chipped or nicked at the bottom (wabi), which serves as a kind of signature of the Hagi-yaki style.

Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude. In the Mahayana Buddhist view of the universe, these may be viewed as positive characteristics, representing liberation from a material world and transcendence to a simpler life. Mahayana philosophy itself, however, warns that genuine understanding cannot be achieved through words or language, so accepting wabi-sabi on nonverbal terms may be the most appropriate approach.

“The wabi and sabi concepts are religious in origin, but actual usage of the words in Japanese is often quite casual.”


If you’re interested in learning more about Wabi Sabi and the wonderful sensability it kindles in the human spirit, please Google the phrase Wabi Sabi.