Part 1: Wabi sabi - subtle beauty

Part 1: Wabi sabi - subtle beauty

Posted on: 03/08/2022

Part 1: Wabi sabi - subtle beauty

Shards, PF

Web, PF


The perfectly imperfect.  I breathed out when I came across a copy of  the book ‘Wabi-Sabi, for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers’ by Leonard Koren’s on a shelf in a library while studying, it’s spacious layout, I want to say organic- ness (this is not quite the right word) initially appealing to me.

I now have a small library’s worth of Wabi Sabi literature from Eastern to Western.   

Wabi Sabi is many things and its multiple tangent spacious views drew me in further. It didn’t stabbingly impose itself. It just slowly grew, softly and subtly. It wasn’t insistent and didn’t rely on antagonism to stamp it’s worth. The last thing that was needed at the time on my nervous system was more antagonism. (tension with no release is purgatory). It was a rest bite from a heavy mooded academia at a complex time which supported my neurology. It was spacious essence which was lacking in a deceptively spacious place.

To understand Wabi Sabi is reject many aspects of Western perfectionism, it is intuitive, refers to both ‘spatial’ and ‘temporal’ events, ‘one-of-a kind’, is  ‘present oriented’ and ‘believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature’ with many further qualities adding to an atmosphere of egalitarianism.

“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”

Leonard Koren

This passage is from the introduction page of Koren’s book and his Western interpretation of the aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, published in 1998 and then in 2008, with a the follow- up book ‘Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts’ being published in 2015 which went on to acsent aspects of the first book which he felt had been omitted in his original text. Koren had written the original book out of concern that Wabi Sabi was and could disappear.

Wabi Sabi is linked with the Japanese Tea ceremony, the term(s) Wabi and Sabi not fully translatable straight in to Western understanding, but considered to be ‘a core’ Japanese value understood intuitively and is often, I am told, translated differently depending on who you ask. 

Wabi Sabi now feels more widely understood and there are groups dedicated to following Wabi Sabi, some trying to grasp at the exact ‘essence of Wabi Sabi’, but I think that is to miss the freedom of such a philosophy and aesthetic. To try and control and overly categorise it is to attempt to turn it in something static so undermining its many facets and the ‘uncontrollability of [it’s] nature’ and in its simplicity. It is the acceptance of impermanence, representing the cycles of life, a constant motion of life. 

It is beautiful and its beauty radiates inwards and outwards.

It now lays in subtle layers of the materials and approachs used in my arts practice.  

What I didn’t know initially was that it became a pre-emptive step in to understanding ableism (but more on this later). 

Wabi Sabi became a generator of acceptance. 

PF.  *Orginally drafted in 2015. Updated 2019, 2020, 2022

Reference materials

'Wabi-Sabi, for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts’  by Leonard Koren

©2024 Pernille Fraser