How do you feel when something is described as “imperfect” or “incomplete”? Does it have a negative connotation? Consider the positive to the imperfect. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that celebrates the beauty in nature’s imperfections. The concept supports an appreciation of the natural world in its current state. Wabi-sabi helps recognize the beauty in things that are not planned or constructed to be a certain way, such as crumbling stone, peeling paint or weathered wood. This philosophy can be applied to art, design and as a general way of life.
“Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent.” — John Ruskin
Like many words from the Eastern culture, there is not a clear translation for wabi-sabi in the English language. The closest word is “rustic”, but this only represents a limited dimension of wabi-sabi. While the two words are abstract ideas of beauty that celebrate simplicity, there are many differences between them. Wabi-sabi goes hand-in-hand with intuition, uniqueness, and organic form.
When Japanese individuals are asked to explain wabi-sabi, they usually answer that they cannot explain it, because wabi-sabi is something that one feels, not verbalizes. There are not any clear cut rules when designing with wabi-sabi. Materials generally show the natural process and can be in any state of growth or decay, being chipped, rusted, tarnished or warped. Under this philosophy, these items are glorified because their imperfections are a testament to their history, which strengthens their character. Want to learn more? Check out Wabi-Sabi for Artist, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren.
The next time you think you have made a mistake on your DIY project, or you accidentally chip a piece of pottery, remember that irregularity and imperfection doesn’t have to be something negative. Try looking at your project in a new way; maybe you have created an interesting line or design. Perhaps that old piece of furniture, actually has an authentic, weathered appearance. There is something simple and calming about re-envisioning with wabi-sabi in mind.