Wabi what?

Wabi-sabi is a japanese aesthetics and philosophy focused on accepting the temporary and changing nature of things.

It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

In the wabi-sabi universe, things are always either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness.

The material characteristics of wabi-sabi aesthetics include simplicity, asymmetry, roughness, irregularity, intimacy, and appreciation of the purity of nature, natural objects and processes. 

Wabi-sabi materials are often left unrefined valuing the original qualities of the raw texture. 

Things wabi-sabi are humble. Things wabi-sabi can appear irregular or odd. Things wabi-sabi record the effects of weather and human treatment for example in change of color, rust, scars and stains.

They can deliberately reveal traces of wear and use, like broken fabric mended with stitching or patches, or broken cup glued back together.

Things wabi-sabi are unpretentious, intimate and earthy.

Usually small and compact in size, they invite the viewer to get closer, touch and feel, instead of just observing with eyes.

As I am learning my way with wabi, I notice, I have more and more courage to leave things unpolished.

I am also more and more conscious of the raw materials I use, the quality and originality of them – in my work with visual projects, in my writing, as well as daily choices like, what I like to wear or, how I like to live in my home and the world.

But the more I try to describe and define what wabi-sabi is, the more aware I am, that there are no fixed rules to live it and draw inspiration of it. We can all have our own understanding and realization of the wabi spirit.

If you are curious about the basics, the history and metaphysical basis of wabi-sabi, I warmly recommend reading Leonard Koren’s classic book on the subject. It was once recommended to me by my friend Eeva and I re-read it a while back.

Koren writes so beautifully, for example about the simplicity of wabi-sabi:

“Simplicity is at the core of things wabi-sabi. [...] But how do you exercise the restraint that simplicity requires without crossing over into ostentatious austerity? How do you pay attention to all the necessary details without becoming excessively fussy? How do you achieve simplicity without inviting boredom?

The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize. (Things wabi-sabi are emotionally warm, never cold.) Usually this implies a limited palette of materials. It also means keeping conspicuous features to a minimum. But it doesn’t mean removing the invisible connective tissue that somehow binds the elements into a meaningful whole. It also doesn’t mean in any way diminishing something’s ‘interestingness’, the quality that compels us to look at that something over, and over, and over again.”

Quote from Leonard Koren’s book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers published in 1994.

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