what is wabi-sabi

What is wabi-sabi


I check out a lot of art books on my kindle.  No, I don’t buy them all but sometimes it leads me in unexpected directions.  I came across this title, Wabi-Sabi Art Workshop: Mixed Media Techniques for Embracing Imperfection and Celebrating Happy Accidents  by Serena Barton.  Since I can use some help in embracing imperfection, I downloaded the sample.

My curiosity was piqued and this is where it began.  I was and still am on a search to bring more soul into my photographic process. Don’t get me wrong – I accept the digital process. But,  I’m also feeling the loss of the alchemy that happens in the darkroom.

If you are a creative person then maybe you understand where I’m coming from.  Some of us just aren’t cut out for sitting in front of a computer screen for hours every day.  We like things that feel real.  And maybe throw in a dash of mystery too.

This is where wabi-sabi comes in.  I had never heard of the term before but as soon as I began my research, it was a “Holy Sh…” moment for me.  I was stunned because I know this.  I know this right down to my core.  This feeling  is so challenging to articulate.   I use words like minimal or simple.  Words that are themselves like the wrapping paper over a gift.  You have to remove it to get to what is inside.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic and ancient philosophy that embraces imperfection, accepts impermanence and honors the incomplete.  It has long been associated with Zen Buddhism and can be found in art, poetry, food, design, and gardening, just to name a few.

At its most broad expression, wabi-sabi is a way of life that transcends nationalism.  It is the opposite of all that is clever and slick in our modern material world.  Instead of glass and chrome, it is aged wood and hand-wrought iron; instead of the grand and opulent it is humble and restrained.

In English, the word “rustic” can give you a visual of what wabi-sabi looks like but as I have said, it goes much deeper than that.

The Japanese words wabi and sabi have changed over the centuries.  Wabi originally referred to a sad loneliness at being separated from society.  A modern translation refers to a way of life that appreciates simplicity and the inconspicuous beauty of nature.

Sabi originally meant “to be desolate” but has evolved to mean “the acceptance and appreciation of age”.  It is the patina that only develops with time.

Today wabi and sabi are put together in a fun phrase that belies the depth behind them.  Wabi (simple and unmaterialistic) and Sabi (weathered with age).  Put together the words point to both the inward and the outward; to both a philosophy and an aesthetic.

Why should you care


We live in a fast paced society with many entertainments.  We can easily play in the shallows and feel like we are having a grand time. That is until we see or hear or feel something that touches us with aching poetry. In that moment a yearning for something almost undefinable hits us like a siren song.

I think that is the call of the soul.  The call pointing us in the direction of home.  For me, wabi-sabi  helps to reconnect with that aspect of myself. It acts as an antidote to what can sometimes be an overly shiny and shallow world.  It keeps me grounded in what is authentic and real.

I’ve given you the cliff notes version of wabi-sabi. But I want to dive deep so I’ve decided to spend the winter in the murky depths.  I’m going to be writing and looking for more  wabi-sabi. I’ll be sharing it here on my blog.  Care to join me?  I’ll be here daily!

Abstact Photographic image of birch trees and evergreens
©Amy Pollard




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