Some of life’s most fulfilling moments are the ones when I perceive the imperfect beauty of the objects around me. Wabi-sabi. I was first introduced to this Japanese aesthetic philosophy at a pottery studio I visited when I lived in L.A. Roughly put, Wabi-sabi is the practice of recognizing the beauty of elements that are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It encompasses that which is humble, unconventional, or even paradoxical.
“Wabi” is used to define the type of beauty that relies on its imperfection. For example, an asymmetrical hand-thrown vase versus a mass-produced symmetrical one. “Sabi” describes the kind of beauty that comes with a natural process of age and use, such as peeling paint.
When living in a culture that privileges soulless consumption, newness, youth, uniform perfection and cleanliness, wabi-sabi provides a powerful antidote. It encourages us to consider history, source, and craft. Though it is, in essence, an aesthetic philosophy, wabi-sabi gives us a framework in which to consider the representational value of the objects in front of us as well (if age or signs of use are integral to the object’s aesthetic value, then we are pushed to consider what caused the object to age, what it meant in the past and means to the present). Thus, Wabi-sabi allows for and encourages the intersection of object and narrative.
I won’t pretend that I’ve studied wabi-sabi extensively (though I would like to at some point) or that I consistently practice this philosophy. What I can say is that it has provided a term and a construct to a previously undefined (by me) pull I’ve experienced toward that which is imperfect, gritty, irregular and antiqued in objects, art and literature.