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Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Illustrators by Leonard Koren

February 15, 2016


I came across the concept of kintsugi in Peter Coughter’s The Art of the Pitch. It’s essentially the Japanese artistic technique of repairing broken or cracked pottery with gold, silver or platinum to actually call attention to the imperfection. It treats the break as an essential and accepted part of the artwork rather than something to hide. Wabi-sabi is a related Japanese philosophy and aesthetic principle which treats imperfection and impermanence as essential, even beautiful aspects of everything.


A kintsugi pot.

Wabi-sabi is derived from Buddhist teaching. It is an overlap of spiritual and artistic philosophies. It has roots in the tea ceremony and is visible in many forms of Japanese art, design and architecture. It is as fundamental to the Japanese aesthetic as Greek ideals of beauty are to Western art and design. In many ways, wabi-sabi is antithetical to many Western values, tending to be more humble in its views of nature, the universe and our place in it. There is value placed on accepting the movement toward nothingness, on deriving wisdom from nature and in eliminating all that is unnecessary. It celebrates simple, small, even that which is traditionally considered ugly or mistaken.


Contemporary wabi-sabi tea bowl.

The organization of this book is a little odd, but it gives a good overview of wabi-sabi without getting mired in the kind of detail that made me dislike my art history classes in college. And as a philosophy, there is much to like in a philosophy that accepts that things will be imperfect. In many ways, that imperfection is what makes life worthwhile.

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