Nothing is finished.
Nothing is perfect.
Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.
I never knew that my personal aesthetic had a name. Indeed, it doesn’t…in the English language (lots of words don’t). I like the old, the broken, the unfinished.
Impermanent, incomplete, imperfect…these are the three hallmarks of the Japanese aesthetic, wabi-sabi*. There is a certain grace, an eloquent beauty in these things. I think that, too often in our societies we think that everything needs to be finished, it needs to be perfect, and it needs to last forever. That we need to make an immortal mark on the world, because we, ourselves are so very mortal.
I think we need to take a step back and start jotting down notes from Nature. When is Nature finished? When has Nature ever been perfect or permanent? The entire cosmos itself is a work in progress, with nothing standing still. Evolution is an entire process of good enough for survival and better enough than the other guy–all of our bodily systems are flawed in their design.** In an ecosystem, there is always something going on–even in a so-called climax community, disturbances occur (fire, flood, falling trees in a storm) causing changes in biodiversity, some of which are necessary for life to continue (fire, for example, is a critical part of forest and prairie health).
We need to change our paradigm. We need to reject our idolization of the unchanging monoliths of modern culture in favor of the work in progress, the thing with an end, that which has flaw.
*The BBC (channel 4) did a program called “In Search of Wabi Sabi” a while back.retty good–if you aren’t familiar with the concept, you should check it out.
**By design, I do not mean that they are designed/have a designer (ugh, shades of creationism), but design as in bauplan, body plan, how they exist…