Wabi-Sabi is NOT wasabi – the green splodge that you get with sushi and sends a shock wave up your sinuses. Instead, wabi-sabi is the Japanese concept of beauty in imperfection. The American artist, Leonard Koren, defined it as
“the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.”
Wabi means rustic simplicity, and can also refer to the quirks that arise in the process of construction. Sabi means serenity that comes with age and impermanence that is revealed by wear and tear.
A classic example of wabi-sabi in practise is Japanese pottery. The picture shows a cup I bought in Tokyo a few months ago – it is clearly misshapen and the shop did not have another like it. The purpose of wabi-sabi is to engage with the object and notice the “imperfections”, to realise that every object is unique and changing and to make the most basic objects beautiful. I love my cup!
This aesthetic goes directly against today’s trend of mass produced “beauty” and flawless copies. And people are reacting against this trend and in their own way appreciating objects that have wabi-sabi.
Take music, the move to digital allows perfect copies to be made and mass produced, yet each year more vinyl records get sold. Vinyl produces cackling sounds that are different on each listen, but makes music even more special. The same can be said of books. E-book sales have plateaued, while print books are selling more than ever before. People like to mark books, dog-ear pages and feel something real in their hands.
So in a digital world of mass production, we need to appreciate wabi-sabi and produce work of wabi-sabi – something AI and robots will struggle to do.