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Wabi Sabi

Page history last edited by cdaniels@... 13 years, 3 months ago

Wabi Sabi









First Questions:


1. What is the difference between an aesthetic and an anti-aesthetic?


2. Zen (and probably Wabi Sabi) stresses "direct, intuitive insight into transcendental truth beyond all intellectual conception." what does that mean and do you buy that?


3. Do we have anything like the iemoto system?


4. What is aesthetic obscurantism and can you think of other examples of it in our own culture?


Why did Leonard Koren write Wabi Sabi?


“In opposition to the accelerating trend toward the uniform

digitalization of all sensory experience…” (page 8).


Resolves a “personal artistic dilemma about how to create

beautiful things without getting caught up in the dispiriting

materialism that usually surrounds such creative acts” (9).


- An anti-aesthetic?


A History of Obfuscation


Zen Buddhism


Reduce the misinterpretation of easily misunderstood



The Iemoto system




Aesthetic Obscurantism

Teleological Benchmark

Reason is subordinate to perception



A Provisonal Definition


Wabi - the misery of living alone in nature, away from society



Sabi - chill, lean, withered



Philosophy vs. Aesthetic Ideal


Inward vs. Outward


Spatial vs. Temporal


Ideas vs. Objects


A Comparison with Modernism



- no decoration that isn’t integral to structure

- both abstract, nonrepresentational ideals of beauty

- both have readily identifiable characteristics



- control

- natural vs. technological

- intuitive vs. logical

- relative vs. absolute


A Brief History


- simplicity, naturalness, acceptance of reality found in



Zen Buddhism


Tea Ceremony




Murata Shuko - In opposition to elegant, expensive tea utensils


Sen no Rikyu (1522 - 1591)



Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582)



Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536- 1598)


- Brilliant but eccentric

- ends social mobility, samurai caste

- permanent and heritable 

- Artistic experimentation

- Appraised worth of utensils

- Emperor’s new clothes?

- Tea utensil profiteering

- Ritual Suicide!


Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616)


- Closes Japan off to outside influence




Post- Rikyu


- institutionalization: The Way of Tea

- Zen: The body, not language, is the repository of

knowledge and technique.

- not about human connection: people and objects treated the same way



Metaphysical Basis of Wabi-Sabi



  • Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness
  • Wabi-Sabi tends to manifest itself in the darker, devolving side of things
  • Cherry Blossoms / Hanami



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Wabi-Sabi Spiritual Values: 


"It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional."

-Leonard Koren


Truth comes from the observation of nature


- All things are impermanent

- All things are imperfect

- All things are incomplete


Greatness exists in the inconspicuous


- slowing down

- the physical vs. the rational


Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness


- Beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else (anti-aesthetic)

- An altered state of consciousness


Wabi Sabi and Creativity


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Wabi Sabi State of Mind



1. Acceptance of the inevitable


- sadness leading to comfort


2. Appreciation of the cosmic order


- structures and physical forces of the world


Application Diagram for Wabi-Sabi Solutions


Design Principles of Wabi-Sabi



The materials used are organic, not polished or cleaned or adulterated to appear new or contrived. Wood, metal, paper, textiles, stone, and clay comprise acceptable materials which will express the passage of time and whose devolution is expressive and attractive.



The object is shaped naturally or organically. Form is not imposed by human contrivance but subtly intervenes to make the object follow the capabilities and relevant physical characteristics, properties, and propensities of its own nature. Above all, the work is itself, not a symbol of anything.



In keeping with the material used, the texture remains rough, uneven, variegated, and random, with every appearance of pursuing an unimpeded natural process.



The Western standard of beauty does not find a place in wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi presses the absolute nature of permeability in the visual and sensual, so that the fragility and poignancy of conventional beauty lost in the passage of time is made real in the present space. The object reveals this different sense of beauty in subtle and even barely perceptible detail.


The wabi-sabi artist does not intend the viewer to "abstract" anything. Wabi-sabi is a holistic experience, and objects derive their beauty from the emotion conveyed, not from any particular detail of the work. In this latter sense, beauty is more easily conveyed in the experience of literature, theater, or ceremony than are some of the other principles.



Colors are muted. Light is diffused or subdued. Colors are derived from natural sources, lacking uniformity or harshness.



Simplicity conveys the spontaneity of natural materials that are not or cannot be embellished. Lack of adulteration and ostentation confirms the authenticity of the work and its conformity to the wabi-sabi spirit.



The work reflects the physical balances found in the natural world. This balance as circumstance is a design principle for the artist to infuse into a work. The work, like the tree, is unique. The regularity, uniformity, and prescriptions contrived by the artist are secondary to the requirement to reflect a natural and unforced appearance to the object and its context.



Sobriety is the simple principle that art is sometimes better defined by what is left out than by what is put in. Sobriety adds a sense of perspective to the experience of impermanence. The artist approaches creative work with humility, sincerity, and a clarification of motives.


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Outside Links:


-A Zen koan about Sen no Rikyu


- A short page of information about Sen no rikyu and tea ceremony


- A page on the iemoto system


- Samurai Archives page on Oda 


- Samurai Archives Page on Hideyoshi


-Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616)


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