The Meaning of Wabi-Sabi

The word wabi means elegant or rustic simplicity, and the word sabi means to appreciate beauty in a thing that is past its prime. Together they mean finding beauty in and appreciating imperfection.
BY Nandita Agrawal on November 6, 2019

The other day, my husband’s phone case got ruined and I painted mountains over that part. Something that was meant to be discarded and seen as undesirable had now turned into a piece of art! It reminded me of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery using lacquer either mixed or dusted with gold, platinum or silver powder. 

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Kintsugi Bowl via https://www.matchaful.com/

Instead of fighting the flaws, they are enhanced in a way that increases the product’s aesthetic value. Wabi-Sabi has a similar meaning, it entices you to use your imperfections to add value to your being instead of trying to subtract them.

What is Wabi-Sabi?

The concept of wabi-sabi is as unique and beautiful as the term itself. The word wabi means elegant or rustic simplicity, and the word sabi means to see beauty in a thing that is past its prime. Together they mean, finding beauty in and appreciating imperfection. In other words it says that your scars are a part of your story and need to be looked at with kindness & acceptance instead of frowning upon them.

Wabi-Sabi as An Aesthetic

As an aesthetic or a way of life, it can be embraced in multiple ways. In design, wabi-sabi encourages the use of raw, unfinished edges, natural materials, and a muted, earthy color palette.  

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Muted colors and organic shapes comprise the wabi-sabi aesthetic

Asymmetry is deemed desirable in this aesthetic, it favours flawed craftsmanship over machine made smoothness. Asymmetry could be in the coating or finish of furniture, the design of the product, or in the way its made. Handcrafted pieces always turn out to be unique and imperfect in some way or the other. They are not identical and shiny like the ones made in a factory. Wabi-Sabi appreciates the beauty in these products. 

Wood, a natural product often changes with age. It changes its color, its texture even its shape sometimes! A handmade wooden item is the perfect example of the Wabi-Sabi design aesthetic. In interior design wabi-sabi can be adopted by avoiding clutter and keeping things simple yet tasteful. Organic, natural forms and shapes, use of materials like wool, cotton, bamboo and silk, comprise this look. 

It basically says, make your space look human instead of perfect. When it comes to furniture, finishes like distress and rustic are ideal for achieving this look. Stick to soft, curvy lines instead of sharp, angular ones and matt finishes that enhance the natural beauty of the material instead of coating it with shine. 

A Way of Life

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Acceptance is the key.

Wabi-Sabi life is a life that celebrates us as we are, with all of our imperfections and flaws. We are so caught up in being perfect, always trying to put our best foot forward. But we forget that our not so best, real foot is what makes us human. We were never meant to be perfect, finite or complete. Just like nature, we are ever changing, and its when we start accepting our flaws we start seeing the beauty in ourselves. A lot of you will say that it’s easy to say that. In a world where we are constantly judged and where perfection is heavily advertised it is impossible to do so. 

I would say, start by spending some time alone, with your thoughts for company. Focus on your breathing, meditate if possible, even pursuing an activity alone could be helpful. Something that we can learn from Kintsugi is to embrace our uniqueness. The cracks are different for everyone. Their cracks are not better than ours and vice versa. When you paint them with gold, you turn them into something valuable and aesthetically pleasing from something that is broken. 

I get inspired by this aesthetic everyday. It can be applied to graphic design, interiors, web design, and of course your life! I hope this article helps you understand the meaning of the Wabi-Sabi concept. 

For more information about this and to see products that appeal to the wabi-sabi aesthetic please write to me at info@kernigkrafts.com

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