The Beauty of an Imperfect Aesthetic -Wabi- Sabi
Contributed by Neleisha Weerasignhe.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it” – Salvador Dali.
As the above saying goes, striving too hard for perfection can hamper one’s state of mind and create much stress. Trying to be too perfect has robbed us of some of the simple pleasures of life as well. For the creative individual, the demands placed by the industry or even self-imposed can actually work to stifle the creative flow. If we pause a while to think and look around us, we will notice no doubt that nothing stays the same, everything goes through a cycle and disintegrates eventually. Nothing is perfect either. We ourselves are made of dust and to dust we shall return.
“…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” – Genesis 3:19
How is this relevant to the arts you ask?
Let us go in to more detail about the concept of Wabi- Sabi. It is a Japanese philosophy or an aesthetic centered on accepting imperfections and change or decay in nature, humans and material things. Some of the main characteristics of this concept or way of life include asymmetry, simplicity, impermanence and modesty. The two words were originally derived based on Buddhist teachings but have evolved to include wider meanings: eg: while Wabi can mean simplicity the word Sabi can refer to the aged beauty in humans or objects. Collectively it looks at a quieter existence in tune with nature and its natural process of ageing and changing. This Japanese philosophy has now evolved and has been adapted by many aesthetic disciplines, such as construction, painting, interior decoration etc.
Historically, we are all aware of the lavish and extravagant lifestyle during the midcentury. It is said that the Wabi – Sabi movement came in to being as a direct response to this over-the-top lifestyle. It scrutinized the over emphasis on perfection and lavish use of expensive material for the benefit of a few. The philosophy is focused on going back to your roots and appreciating the raw beauty of nature in its own way. It is about accepting and seeing beauty in the imperfect human and its surroundings both man-made and natural.
When it comes to the aesthetic disciplines of today, this concept can be a great influence. The Wabi-Sabi concept can help designers and artists focus on highlighting some of the more important and lesser known or seen subtle reality of our existence. It is totally opposite to the stress filled, technologically infused modern lifestyles of today. Rather it looks and appreciates a decaying building, the purity of a single wild flower or the cracks in the walls or the pavements. Wabi-Sabi will help others understand and truly see the raw beauty that surrounds our lives. Many things that are considered mundane or boring can be a joyous experience for the Wabi-Sabi follower.
Incorporating Wabi -Sabi in daily life
Seeking newness and perfectionism has created a world of mass-produced goods and a throw away culture. It is not only limited to industries; it is slowly infiltrating our lives, pushing us away from nature. The quest for perfectionism has pushed us to control nature rather than enjoy its natural rawness and beauty. The opposite to this perfect attitude is the heart of wabi sabi and the Japanese way of life. It embraces life and everything in it as being impermanent, imperfect and incomplete. Artists and the aesthetic industries can greatly benefit from this concept and can in turn be a forerunner in encouraging this form of simple living.
Many designers, artist and other esthetic practitioners are seeing the value of simplicity and the embraced value of imperfection and seeing the beauty in it. Wabi sabi can encourage designers and creators alike to appreciate contours of the natural world rather that striving for geometrical precision. It might mean removing some ornamentation and simply appreciating the material used in an artwork, such as textures as opposed to a hyper realistic painting. For an interior decorator it might be to bring nature indoors, not by forcing it but by accepting things as it is, such as leaving outdoor walls to be naturally stained with age and decay.
In a fast-phased commercial world where everything seems to be influenced by the throwaway culture, wabi sabi encourages the individual to appreciate the old and the worn out rather than simply following a pattern of loading yourself with the new. Its allowing nature to take its course and ageing gracefully and appreciating the simple things. Which ever way you look at it, one thing is for sure, it is not something you can buy with money, but it is a state of mind, it is a way of being that is more centered and attuned with our soul and the world we live in.