Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.
"Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty."
|This camel bag, that I bought a decade ago at an auction, brings about a sense of serene melancholy and a longing to know where it has been, who owned it and what was transported in it.|
"Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."
Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.
In art books, it is typically defined as "flawed beauty." Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude.
|A collection of Raku items I made in 2004: Perfectly imperfect.|
From an engineering or design point of view, wabi may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then sabi could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the phonological and etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust. Wabi-sabi describes a means whereby we can learn to live life through the senses and better engage in life as it happens, rather than be caught up in unnecessary thoughts. The idea is that being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.
In one sense wabi-sabi is a training whereby we learn to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.