Wabi Sabi


The Japanese have many words for interesting concepts--one of my favorites is Wabi Sabi. It is an appreciation for the imperfect, the subtle, the humble. And it is seeing the profound beauty that time bestows on all earthly things; a reverence for the cycle of life.

In her book about this very concept, Robyn Griggs Lawrence outlines the meaning of both words; wabi is harmony, peace, balance and tranquility--sabi refers to "the bloom of time" or the dignity and grace that accompany the natural progression of aging.

I have long been fascinated by this subject of imperfection--both in design and in humanity. Think about it; isn't it really our idiosyncrasies, flaws and vulnerabilities that attracts us to one another? It's what makes us unique, interesting and relatable. But perfectionism is not only unattainable, it's uninteresting, inauthentic and humans can't connect with it--it doesn't exist and does not make us feel good. As Brene Brown says, "when perfection is driving, shame is riding gunshot." Imperfection is the only thing that allows humans to learn, to grow, to create. And it draws us closer to one another. Case in point: as I walked around the lake near our home this weekend man rode past me on a beach cruiser wearing docksiders and khakis. And a pith helmet. He was happy and he was owning it. It was brilliant, it was a moment and it made me smile big--I won't forget him.

Historically, many cultures and art forms have embraced the art of imperfection. In Veronique Vienne's book the joys of imperfection, she cites many examples of this:

  • In the Zen tradition, wabi-sabi objects, carefully crafted to be intentionally imperfect, impermanent, or incomplete, are considered most beautiful--their humble elegance transcending fad and fashion.
  • In Islamic art, small flaws abound in what look like the most luxurious carpets, mosaics and pottery. Artists are urged to make mistakes on purpose to remind observers that God alone is perfection. It's actually fun to seek the imperfections.
  • In music, notes that deviate from an established pattern are often used to create emotional tension. Beethoven was quite fond of this technique by replacing sounds with silence to express mounting sorrow, as in his Third Symphony, "Funeral March".
  • In literature, James Joyce championed intentional error--he found them to be "portals of discovery". In Ulysses he used typos, misspellings and lack of punctuation to add insight to his prose.

I my artistry, I do love to add a touch of the unexpected--a bit of visual serendipity that will draw the eye in. With a renewed sense of value that imperfection brings--I go forth inspired to find new ways of embracing imperfection. Afterall, what makes a perfect moment is its unexpected and imperfect timing.



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