On Media & Design

Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers… in a Nutshell

What is wabi-sabi and why is it difficult to define?

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese beauty aesthetic that focuses on the internal, imperfect, and the incomplete transient state of an object.

How is wabi-sabi different from modernism? How is it the same?

According to Koren, Wabi-sabi and modernism are both strong reactions against the dominant, established sensibilities of their time, applicable to all manner of manmade objects, spaces, and designs. However, there are some key differences that distinguishes each from the other:

Wabi-Sabi: expressed in the private domain, relies on an intuitive worldview and looks to nature and the organic aspects of things, and addresses problems with a more personalized solution that is unique to the situation.

Modernism: expressed in the public domain, relies on a logical and rational worldview and looks to geometric organization of form, and addresses problems with more universal, prototypical solutions.

What is the metaphysical basis of wabi-sabi? What are its spiritual values?

The metaphysical basis of wabi-sabi  means that things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness. Its spiritual values include the following: (1) truth comes from observing nature; (2) “greatness” exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details; and (3) beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness.

What is the wabi-sabi state of mind? What are its moral precepts?

The wabi-sabi state of mind means acceptance of the inevitable and the appreciation of the cosmic order. Its moral precepts include getting rid of the unnecessary, focusing on the intrinsic, and ignoring material hierarchy.

What are the material qualities of wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is characterized by these material qualities: the suggestion of a natural process, irregularity, intimacy, unpretentiousness, earthiness, murkiness/vagueness, and simplicity. Wabi-sabi celebrates the imperfections found in nature, and helps us to look at the imperfect details as things that could also be worthy of beauty.

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