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Wabi Sabi: accepting imperfection in your creative work

This month’s book club read was ‘Wabi Sabi: for artists, designers, poets and philosophers‘ by Leanord Koren. I have slowly been trying to condition myself out of the constant need for perfection in everything I do, whilst I strive for excellence in my work and for my clients, I also recognised the need to accept the ‘beauty in imperfection’ of working with natural materials. The very ethos of what I do comes from nature, and so by expecting it to be perfect, 100% replicable, was not unrealistic, but was also missing the entire focus of my own work. So I as looking forward to learning more about this increasingly popular Japanese movement through this book.

About the book

The book is short and focused, giving a fascinating insight into the origins of the wabi sabi idea as well as thought-provoking commentary on we as westerners have adopted the concept for the modern age. I had no idea that it originated in the great art of tea making ass long ago as the twelfth century (of which I heartily approve being a tea addict myself!). The shortness of the book does however leave me wanting for more, and I will look forward to exploring the ideas further and researching more about why it appeals so much to us as artists.

As Leonard himself said, “that complex of exciting, pleasurable sensations ostensibly emanating from things — objects, environments, and even ideas — that make us feel more alive and connected to the world; that urgent feeling we equate with “the good,” “the right” and “the true.”

Even the translation of the phrase is complex, and has changed over time, with much of the meaning implied rather than overt. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society, and now means rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and man-made objects; and Sabi beauty or serenity that comes with age – together simplistically translated as ‘flawed beauty’.


Finding more ‘wabi sabi’ in our art

I own a few precious items that evoke in me the feeling of wabi sabi – as said by another author on the concept, Andrew Juniper, to bring about a sense of “serene melancholy and spiritual longing“, and my ambition is to be able to create in my work something that evokes these feelings in anyone that purchases my work. It might be in something as humble as a single sheet of handmade paper – it’s unevenness and deckled edges being the embodiment of ‘imperfect beauty’; or as Richard Powell in his book described wabi sabi as “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect“.


Everything has Beauty

One of the key concepts I took from the book, and through pondering about wabi sabi in general is that there is beauty in everything- sometimes it is obvious for all to see, sometimes it take a little longer to find, but that’s also why I think the movement has taken hold in our hearts – the slow living ideals of taking time to notice more of the little things, to find the beauty, not just have it on display.

The embodiment of the wabi sabi ideals can be seen in several Japanese art forms including Ikebana floral design, bonsai, poetry, and pottery – I have put together a Pinterest board with all these aesthetics for you.

I’d love to know what you thought of the book, or what your thoughts are on the whole concept – please do comment below or join in the Facebook Group discussions.