Wabi-Sabi Art and the Perfection of Imperfection

Wabi-Sabi Art and the Perfection of Imperfection

In a world obsessed with flawless beauty and eternal youth, it’s more than refreshing to discover that different concepts of beauty exist. During the course of my personal research into how to embrace flaws, I stumbled upon Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese art concept, and couldn’t quite believe the sheer genius of its essence. First, let’s look at what Wikipedia says about wabi-sabi:

“Wabi-sabi (侘寂 ?) represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese worldview centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

In fundamental contrast to the idea of finding beauty in perfection, celebrated in Western cultures, the Japanese view of beauty seeks out and celebrates imperfections in works of art. A vase without a crack lacks character and interior designers reject the symmetrical dinner table. Old wood, rough materials, and odd shapes define beauty in art and design, reflecting the cycle of growth and decay in nature. The integration of imperfection is the core of wabi-sabi art.

Wabi-Sabi – A Celebration of the Ageing Process

Similarly, in Japanese culture, the aged are respected for their wisdom and revered by younger generations.  Thus, an idea that was once centred around the definition of beauty in art, spills into human relations with the promotion of respect for the wisdom of older people little known in western culture. In Japan, the older generation enjoys inclusion into the activities of the younger generation, who seek out the wisdom of their elders. While in the west, people spend millions of dollars on anti-ageing products to remain forever young, wrinkles and fine lines are a symbol of wisdom and beauty in Japan.

Conflicting Concepts of Beauty

These two opposing concepts of beauty reach beyond art and have contributed to our overall mindset. Think about it this way: Why are we struggling with the ageing process? Why do we airbrush ourselves on social media platforms?

Take a look at the two vases below. The one on the left is a Japanese wabi-sabi vase, while the vase on the left was created by Waterford Crystal.

Which would you choose? Wabi Sabi on the left or Waterford on the right?

The Quest for Perfection is Bad For Us

The western idea of beauty spills into human relations where imperfections have become an unacceptable quantity. Rather than integrating faults and embracing the ageing process, we continually seek perfection in ourselves and others. The resulting pressure is often unbearable, with few individuals willing to share their true struggles.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of the Japanese’ book and find beauty in our imperfections and value in our own ageing process. It’s imaginable that the pressures of everyday life would ease with a weakening image consciousness. Maybe the young who are struggling with the pressure of social media would benefit from a different definition of beauty. Maybe we should promote the idea of “beauty within authenticity”, flaws and all, and free ourselves from our ultra-heavy, self-fabricated plastic image yoke.