Wabi – Sabi: Japanese for Unconventional Beauty

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Probably in your language there are a few words untranslatable to other languages, I know we have them in spanish, and in english the word “wanderlust” is one of them.

I don’t know exactly how or when I came across with this concept but became really curious about it’s meaning and started researching. It wasn’t that easy to my surprise, to find books or any written information about it. Eventually I understood the reason why…

If you ask a Japanese to translate or explain Wabi – Sabi, they will probably hesitate and give you an apology for not been able to do so. But they all recognize the feeling of it for sure, because it’s a core concept in Japanese culture.

The best definition I found, was this that follows:

“ Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

It is a beauty of things unconventional. “ ( “Wabi-Sabi” by Leonard Koren)

As you can infer this concept can be applied for visual arts, architecture, poetry, literature, philosophy and spiritual life.

The lack of written information contributes to the vagueness of the definition, but why does so much mysterie surrounds it? The origins of the word are related to the ceremony of tea, which was mostly performed by zen monks and zen tea masters. In their tradition, essential knowledge can only be transmitted from mind to mind and not through the written word.

My interest in this aesthetically and philosophical concept has me involved on a very particular mission:  to spread the word about it and  stop it from disappearing.

Since the mid 20th century the predominant aesthetic has been modernism – I am a big fan – but it has been so popular and preeminent that even in Japan now days Wabi-Sabi is fading away. In my opinion that would be a big loss for all of us. With that in mind I wanted to list here the differences between both, so that we can open our minds to perceive this other version of beauty that surrounds us. A beauty that is vulnerable, irregular, imperfect, intimate, unpretentious, simple and earthy. A bit like most of us uh?

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Modernism                                                                   Wabi-Sabi

 

Logical, rational.                                                           Intuitive.

 

Absolute.                                                                         Relative

 

Universal Solutions                                           Personal Solutions

 

Mass Produced                                                   One-of-a-kind.

 

Future Oriented                                                 Present Oriented

 

Pro Technology                                                   Pro Nature

 

Geometric forms                                                 Organic Forms

 

The Box as the metaphor                                The Bowl as the metaphor

 

Needs to be well mantained                         Accommodates to degradation

 

Intolerant of ambiguity.                                  Comfortable with ambiguity.

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As Hume suggested:   “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”   Let’s make some room and accept as part of our lifes the imperfect, faded, broken and ambiguous beauty that exists everywhere and in everyone, even in ourselves.

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