Monday, June 12, 2017


Wabi-sabi (侘寂pervades all aspects of traditional Japanese art from flower arrangement (ikebana) to sword fighting (kenjutsu). To add that this aesthetic is the key ingredient flavoring all of Japanese life is not overstating the case.

Wabi-sabi presents a view of life that is focused on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Appreciation of things both animate and inanimate that are impermanent, somewhat flawed, and left unfinished are keys to understanding the nuances of the concept.

Specifically, wabi insists on a restrained, austere beauty; sabi adds the rustic patina. Wabi reaches its peak of austerity in the emptiness espoused by Zen monks. Sabi often carries a connotation of desolateness; but usually the reference is to something that has aged well, grown rusty, or acquired character. 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyū wrote: “In the small room, it is desirable for every utensil to be less than adequate."

Transience, restraint, vacancy: A certain minimalism is implicit in these terms. Robert Browning is said to have first used used the phrase 'less is more' in print in his poem 'Andrea del Sarto' published in 1855. The entire minimalist movement, with their mantra of less is more, is built on this centuries old concept. And in the early 20th century, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the same aphorism as the guiding principle of his work. Less is more.

A look back at Rembrandt's 'Self Portrait with Two Circles' (CwHD6) will help to see what the words are saying; or read Hemingway's The Old Man And The Sea. Extra brush strokes for the painter, unnecessary verbiage for the writer, are just gilding the lily.

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