An Aesthetic of Acceptance

In my daily life I am able to identify a particular aesthetic understanding which had developed in me during several years living in Japan. This way of interacting with the world is closely aligned to Zen and Wabi-Sabi both of which share many core theoretical tenets. Wabi-Sabi is an appreciation of the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete; of that which is modest, humble and unconventional; of things as they are in this moment.

According to Koren (1998) the material qualities of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi are “the suggestion of natural process; Irregular; Intimate; Unpretentious; Earthy; Murky; Simple” (Koren, p.41). The values of Wabi-Sabi are: ‘All things are impermanent; All things are imperfect; All things are incomplete; ‘Greatness’ exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details; and beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness.’ (Koren, p. 46-51).

Several years ago I attended an exhibition of the art of 19th Century Zen nun, Rengetsu. The art works in the exhibition are simple ceramic containers with poems inscribed on them in fine, cursive calligraphy. The poems and the simple containers speak to the ephemeral nature of life. In the exhibition there was a set of tea cups of which one had been broken and had been mended with gold. Instead of discarding or attempting to invisibly mend the broken cup, gold had been laid upon the crack so that the ‘visible mending’ became accentuated. The imperfection was celebrated as an accidental addition worth appreciation.

They are an embodiment of Wabi-Sabi : finding beauty in imperfection, profundity in nature; and accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. This approach to art and life is simple, slow, and uncluttered. It reveres authenticity above all. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet – that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through Wabi-Sabi, we learn to embrace transience and the ephemeral nature of everything.

Koren, L. (1998). Wabi-Sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers. Berkeley, CA: Stonebridge Press.
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