The came up in an age where flaws were

The cultural concept I will be discussing is that of Wabi-sabi and how I came to see it as not only engrossing, but increasingly relevant in Westernized culture.  By no stretch of the imagination have I ever considered myself perfect. I have flaws and shortcomings that often fall beyond my control. When I look at myself, I see beauty. But the beauty I see does not always agree with the visual experiences of others. As I get older, my flaws are maturing and have started to show signs of age. Extra weight, gray hair and wrinkles are all natural occurrences in the human experience. Despite the naturalness, these same issues are often seen as negative, and I have to deal with it. In today’s pop culture, being flawed is now ‘in’. Musicians from Beyonce to Kendrick Lamar to Taylor Swift all sing lyrics about embracing who you are, Flaws and All (Knowles, 2009). For example, my daughter has a more positive self identity at 16 then I did at her age because she is coming up in a generation where self appreciation is taught more freely. But what about those of us who came up in an age where flaws were supposed to be hidden, not monetized? As a woman of certain age, I was painfully aware (early on) that as I aged, my worth could and/or would dwindle. My value was viable as long as I was deemed ‘worthy’; and it is my responsibility to remain worthy. Society tells me that worth is inextricably linked to looks. Even if it means surgically and emotionally altering my person. A few years ago in my travels I came across a cultural ideal and practice that I have since found more and more intriguing called Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese practice of embracing the imperfect, celebrating the aged, the unsmooth, both decorative and spiritual. (Quiroga, 2015) An acceptance and celebration of the toll that life takes on us all. It is derived from the Buddhist way of living, which is rooted in non-attachment. (Varten, 2014)Wabi-sabi was born from Zen Buddhism. Chinese Zen Buddhism focused on living a humble and meaningful lifestyle. It embraced humanity’s conception and acceptance of nature. The teachings of Zen Buddhism spread across China influencing the work of theologians, poets and artists. Unfortunately, in the mid 9th-century the repression of foreign influences in China began. Despite censorship, the principles of Zen Buddhism had reached Japan. These same principles sparked Japanese aesthetic philosophy. Japanese culture began instilling the philosophy in almost every aspect of its’ culture. For the aristocrats, the paragon of Wabi-sabi was the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is a quiescent celebration of grace and beauty. It is a reverent experience of mindfulness, respect and a focus on the now. The word itself is difficult to translate using Westernized ideals, due to our belief that newer and/or younger is better. The term Wabi-sabi is composed of two separate parts. Wabi, is the incomprehensible beauty caused when something is allowed to be imperfect. Sabi, means the kind of beauty that comes with age, such as the rust or lime on an ancient statue. The two words combined are both a lifestyle and metaphor that interests me greatly.Andrew Juniper, the author of Wabi Sabi- The Japanese Art of Impermanence explored the philosophy of Wabi-sabi, and authored a ‘how to’ for the transformation of body, mind, and home using this concept. According to Juniper, the term Wabi-sabi suggests we pursue qualities such as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. These principles are diametrically opposed to those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in the Hellenic worldview that places value on permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection. ( Juniper, 2010)Being a product of the ‘Hellenic’ viewpoint, I myself find the notion of applying Wabi-sabi to my own life very freeing. Wabi-sabi is a visceral appreciation of beauty that reflects the constant movement of the world. It is in unpretentious beauty that broken, imperfect, or even decayed, can exist. A contrast to Western principles rooted in philosophies for power, authority, dominance, engagement, and control, whether of others or of nature. The guiding principles of Wabi-sabi fall into nine categories. (Koren, 1994) Although the following category descriptions are in reference to the act of making art, I have found they can be applied to a myriad of real life scenarios. 1. Type – Materials used are organic, not synthetic. They should not be polished or cleaned or adulterated to appear new or contrived. 2. Form – The object is shaped naturally or organically, showing natural or intentional asymmetry or irregularity. 3. Texture – In keeping with the material used, the texture remains rough, uneven, variegated, and random, with every appearance of pursuing an unimpeded natural process.4. Beauty – Wabi-sabi does not prescribe to a westernized standard of beauty. Wabi-sabi is defined by the fragility and poignancy how time affects things. 5. Color – The object conveys nothing harsh or unnatural, hence colors are muted. Light should be softened or diffused. In order for color to lack uniformity or harshness, it must come from all natural sources. 6. Simplicity – Simplicity is rooted in materials that are not embellished. 7. Space – Nothing is wasted yet there is ample space around the object, conveying a holistic philosophy wherein all elements are intertwined and are essential to the whole. 8. Balance – Physical balances found in the natural world are reflected. 9. Sobriety – Sobriety is the simple principle that art is sometimes better defined by what is left out than by what is put in. Sobriety adds perspective. By expanding the definitions of the above tenets, Wabi-sabi has applicability outside of the art world. What if you practiced being OK with a messy closet? What if don’t ‘refresh’ the antique painting you inherited? What if you celebrated your laugh lines and crows feet? Signs of aging are the apex of Wabi-sabi. They are a natural part of life, and tell the story of the life you have lived. Practicing Wabi-sabi takes the pressure off, leading to a more mindful view of the world around you. When in practice, loving things for what they are can lead to less uptake, rather than chase what’s the latest or newest thing. (I am looking at you Iphone.)  Once people learn to love the things for all their imperfections, and tactile evidence of having been made by someone’s hands (instead of a machine), we won’t need to constantly produce and invest in new personal property. This can reduce our consumption (energy use and predictable waste), improving our budgets, and saving the world for future generations. We might also be less stressed, and more attentive to the details, which are central to mindfulness. Slowly, Wabi-sabi is becoming popularized in the United States. As more and more Americans are trying to find their true selves, the lifestyle movement is embracing Wabi-sabi, even if only as a trend. In July of 2017, published an article entitled, Wabi-Sabi Is the New Hygge – and It Will Make Your Home Calm. (Pointer-Adams, 2017) The article discussed how an individual can apply this art to decorating their homes. The article described how by removing clutter and committing to maintaining older materials, you can create an environment that is soothing and cohesive. The author noted her that in her own process of moving away from perfection, she discovered that Wabi-Sabi made her daily life simpler, more thoughtful, and more carefree. published an article entitled, How to Embrace Wabi-Sabi. (Reitman, 2018) This article delved into the importance of using natural items and colors throughout your home. The text was accompanied by a slide show of exquisitely configured rooms that were designed using the ideologies of Wabi-sabi. By providing readers with detailed descriptions and visuals, Wabi-sabi is now becoming accessible to an audience who may not have ever heard about it otherwise. I am in the process of learning to practice Wabi-sabi in my daily life. I now prize myself and the things around me that show signs of age. I find beauty in the things  dated, and considered old. I no longer feel the pressure to consume or conform to unattainable standards. On a recent family trip to Paris I reveled in the history of the city. I took time to appreciate the ancient buildings and art, particularly the blemishes, wear and tear. When the apartment we rented had problems (issues that being westernized have taught me to hate), I took them with stride. I smiled and reminded myself of where I was and to enjoy my life; not worry about the old plumbing and the smelly sewage system. In conclusion, the art of Wabi-sabi is the love and admiration of things that have come before us. It teaches us to slow down and appreciate the things that have aged with time. Wabi-sabi rests on the belief that true beauty is imperfect, weathered, and often times broken. As a woman, professional, mother and wife, I find that by practicing Wabi-sabi I am learning to value life and genuinely understand what the ‘pursuit of happiness’ really means.


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