Monday, July 3, 2017


The emphasis this week is again on practical applications of aesthetic principles. Aesthetics is usually associated with art and design, and often considered too abstract for daily use. However, even a cursory look at the following four principles of Japanese aesthetics will show them to be eminently practical.

1. Lose the clutter.

Simplicity is the key to most of what follows. Everyone knows the kiss principle. A tired cliché. Few people take this tired advice to heart. Eliminate what is not used or needed. Sell it or give it away. Keep only what you must. Have a place for it. This is called kanso in Japanese.

2. Tone it down.

Subtlety is the wink that goes with simplicity's smile. Better to suggest than to explicitly reveal. Obviously, this is the problem (one of many) with pornography, and the reason lingerie still sells. This is called Yugen, the power of suggestion.

rock garden Portland Japanese Garden (photo by Lscudder)

3. Take a breath.

Learn to be still. This is the single most difficult item on the list. Sitting quietly, doing nothing more than focusing the mind on one thing until that thing is no more. Too esoteric? Then sit and watch birds and their business. Watch the wind blow. Count waves. This is seijaku. Stillness. Tranquility.

4. Do less.

Less is more (see CwHD7). Austerity in all its definitions describes this principle. Often translated as shibumi in Japanese, the nuances of austerity have to be softened with yugen. Harshness and negativity have no place here. Simply use some restraint as your life unfolds.

One might write pages on each of these principles. Next week I'll apply this aesthetic to the classic five paragraph essay. Two weeks hence, I'll introduce Henry. Or was it Hank?

The link below is to a performance by Esperanza Spalding of Abbey Lincoln's song 'Throw It Away'. Both the performance and the song exemplify the four principles.

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