What is Wabi Sabi?
Discover the origins and meaning of this philosophy
It is known that the initial inspiration comes from the ideas of simplicity, naturalness and acceptance of reality found in Taoism and Zen Buddhism, based on contemplation of nature and acceptance of its continuous life cycle.
Principles and early evolution of the Wabi Sabi concept
In the mid fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the first known master of the Wabi sabi is the Zen monk called Murata Shuko. In those years the tea ceremony had become a hobby for the high society, where they used tea utensils made abroad. However, Murata Shuko opposed fashion and used locally made utensils whenever possible, thus achieving the beginning of Wabi sabi in the aesthetics of tea.
At the end of the 16th century, however, the separate elements of Wabi sabi became an identifiable Japanese synthesis and, although it quickly penetrated almost every aspect of Japanese culture and taste, it only reached its maximum expression in the tea ceremony.
The beginnings of Wabi Sabi and craftsmanship.
About a hundred years after Shuko’s innovation, Sen no Rikyu brought the wabi sabi to its apotheosis. Rikyu managed to introduce indigenous Korean and Japanese handicrafts as Wabi sabi handicraft design objects, at the same artistic level and even higher than the perfect and sumptuous Chinese treasures. He went on to become an art director and commissioned craftsmen to create original objects with this new sensibility inspired by nature.
Evolution of the meaning of Wabi Sabi
The meaning of Wabi sabi has evolved over time and has been used in many fields. One of them is interior design and Wabi sabi decoration. Most of the time, the impression people get when they see a Wabi sabi expression for the first time is “rustic”. This only defines a limited part of the Wabi sabi aesthetic and, although the term that comes closest to meaning is the same, it does not refer in the literal sense of the word, but in the sense of simple, unarmed and unsophisticated.
To have a clearer idea of what Wabi sabi is and is not, we can compare it with the dominant aesthetic of the mid-twentieth century, Modernity. Both have identifiable characteristic surfaces. The modern style is seamless, polished, smooth, while the wabi sabi is rough, imperfect and veined.
Modernity has a logical and rational vision, its production is serial/modular, oriented to the future and believes in the control of nature romanticizing technology and making people adapt to the machine. The geometric shapes are precise with defined shapes and edges, the materials are artificial and polished that end up needing maintenance. Perfect materiality is an ideal of beauty and is characterized by being cold and eternal.
On the other hand, the Wabi sabi has a vision of the world more intuitive than intellectual, its production is based on a unique/variable piece, oriented to the present and believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature, romanticizing it and making people adapt to it. The forms are organic, the materials are natural and coarse, they adapt to degradation and wear without needing maintenance, because corrosion and pollution give them more expression. Imperfect materiality is the ideal of beauty and is characterized by being warm, with a time for everything.
The ultimate, the Wabi sabi is a lifestyle, where it is conceived that true beauty is not in the perfect, because in reality perfection does not exist. It is a vision of the world as it is, without the intention of moulding it to end up creating something that is artificial and unreal. The things elaborated on the basis of Wabi sabi are made of natural materials that are vulnerable to the passage of time, to the climate, to human treatment, and instead of seeing cracks, corrosion, discoloration or unequal forms such as errors or ugliness, these are seen as the trace that life has left in its path and that provides soul and a unique character. The beauty of Wabi sabi is, in a sense, the fact of accepting what is considered ugly and imperfect in society.