The world of design is constantly changing and innovating itself. Thoughts and ideas are discussed and thrown around easily. Especially when it comes to aesthetics. But what is an aesthetic? Is it just another way of making things look pretty? Or is there more than meets the eye? These days, when we talk about aesthetics, your mind immediately diverts to something polished and new; Marble tiles, bamboo finishings, and everything sleek. But what about everything else in between?
Today’s topic of discussion is ‘Wabi-Sabi’. The Japanese aesthetic of accepting beauty in the old and unpolished. The constant desire for perfection is derived from Western culture. Undoubtedly, it has leaked into our everyday life. Everywhere we go, we see perfection in one way or another. It can be exhausting to keep up with the impossible need to look and be perfect.
Wabi-sabi is the antithesis of the Classical Western idea of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and/or monumental. Wabi-sabi resides in the inconspicuous and overlooked details, in the mirror and the hidden, in the tentative and ephemeral.
“This article is about looking at the everyday, the commonplace, and finding magic in the ordinary— a reminder that nothing in life, or design, is perfect. It is about appreciating the aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi, finding it or seeing it in things that already exist in the visual world around us— to encourage and develop an intuitive way of seeing that involves becoming aware of the moments that make life rich and paying attention to the simple pleasures that can be overshadowed by the chaos and excess of our consumerist society.”
– Richard Martin.
On a metaphysical level, wabi-sabi is a beauty at the edge of nothingness. That is, a beauty that occurs as things devolve into, or evolve out of, nothingness. Consequently, things wabi-sabi are subtle and nuanced.
It is the idea and belief that life is made richer when we appreciate things as they are, rather than trying to force it into perfection. Somewhere buried in our psyches is the realization that being human fundamentally implies being imperfect. So when someone suggests that imperfection may be just as beautiful—just as valuable—as perfection, it is a welcome acknowledgment.
The idea is to let things wither and understanding the beauty that it holds from growing old. Personally, I think Wabi-Sabi is a great aesthetic to live by. It teaches us that everything is semi-permanent. As such, wabi-sabi is a democratic beauty available equally to rich and poor alike.
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 aesthetic pleasures of wabi-sabi depend on attitude and practice as much, or more than on the materiality itself. Subtlety and nuance are at wabi-sabi’s heart. Wabi-sabi resides in the inconspicuous and overlooked details, in the minor and the hidden, in the tentative and ephemeral. But in order to appreciate these qualities, certain habits of mind are required: calmness, attentiveness, and thoughtfulness. If these are not present, wabi-sabi is invisible.