Wabi-Sabi: The Beauty of Imperfection

March 31, 2014 § 29 Comments

By Tai Carmensite credit: www.mindful.org/in-your-life/arts-and-creativity/wabi-sabi-for-artists-designers-poets-philosophers

“Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent & incomplete.” ~ Leonard Koren

“Wabi is the beauty that springs from the creative energy that flows in all things, animate or not. It’s a beauty that, like nature itself, can appear with dark and light, sad and joyful, rough and gentle.” ~ Makoto Ueda

“Beauty is radiant and tactile, not airbrushed.” ~ Joe Hefferon 

The term Wabi-Sabi represents a Japanese aesthetic philosophy that embraces authenticity over perfection.

Characterized by asymmetry, irregularity, simplicity, economy, austerity—modesty & intimacy—wabi-sabi values natural objects & processes as emblems of our transitory existence. Rust, woodgrain, freckles—the texture of life.

grandmothers-hands-todd-fox, site credit: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/grandmothers-hands-todd-fox.html

Developed in the 15th century in reaction to the lavish, ostentatious ornamentation of the aristocracy, wabi-sabi centers around three principals: “nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished.”

“The initial inspiration for wabi-sabi’s metaphysical, spiritual, and moral principles come from ideas about simplicity, naturalness, and acceptance of reality found in Taoism and Chinese Zen Buddhism,” notes Leonard Koren (“Wabi-Sabi For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.“)Axel-Vervoordt, site credit: http://designtraveller.blogspot.com/2011/02/wabi-sabi.html

Though the concept of wabi-sabi is vast & elusive, most agree the closest Western translation is “rustic.”

“Wabi” refers to stark, transient beauty, while “sabi” denotes the poetry of natural patina & aging, with undertones of yūgen—profound grace and subtlety. Age, damage & natural processes are not seen as flaws, but as deepening & enriching an object’s beauty & profundity.

site credit: http://www.shohin-europe.com/ARTICLES-wabisabi.htm

It is not only natural process that wabi-sabi celebrates, but subtlety & suggestion.

“Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest,” details Robyn Griggs Lawrence, “the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree …. the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It’s a richly mellow beauty that’s striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time…”

Leaves Explored, by: Byron Jorjorian, site credit: www.byronjorjorian.com/detail/6504.html

Intentionality is key.

“Wabi-sabi is never messy or slovenly,” adds Lawrence. “Worn things take on their magic only in settings where it’s clear they don’t harbor bugs or grime. One senses that they’ve survived to bear the marks of time precisely because they’ve been so well cared for throughout the years.” rural oak bowl by holzfurhaus via etsy

To find beauty in imperfection is not intuitive to the Western mind.

Not only have we been raised in a consumeristic culture that values the new & the flawless over the old & the damaged—from objects to people, an obsession fed by airbrush-heavy advertisers—but our entire Western worldview is based on the ancient Greek philosophies of symmetry, proportion & idealized beauty. Not acceptance of what is, but glorification of what could be.

Townley-Discobolus, site credit: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/date/2012/06/03, ancient greek sculpture,

Wabi-sabi finds beauty & value in what is. 

It is, Lawrence notes, “everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed.

“Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.” (“Wabi-Sabi: The Art of Imperfection.”)

wabi-sabi, buddha face, site credit: eimagination.blogspot.com/2012/07/wabi-sabi.html

In this modern age we find ourselves increasingly alienated from the real.

The texture of life is more & more digitized. We are programmed to seek newer, sleeker, faster technologies—bombarded with images of younger, smoother, more mannequin-like faces as the height of beauty.

Julio Cesar Gomez, site credit: http://www.juliocesargomez.co/75582/673662/gallery/plastic-beauty

It is a ripe time to recall & explore the ancient wisdom of wabi-sabi.

As Billie Mobayed famously noted: “When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

bowl, cracks filled with gold, Japanese, wabi wabi

In an age when broken things are sooner thrown away than honored for their history we can apply this beautiful concept to ourselves.

Though our hearts may bare metaphorical fractures, in the light of our acceptance & reverence, we fill its fissures with gold. For what is more valuable than experience?

Though classically based in art, architecture & landscaping design, it seems natural to apply wabi-sabi principals to our own & others’ humanity. site credit: http://journeytoixtlan.tumblr.com/post/17125919365, wabi wabi beauty, freckles beautiful

Through the wisdom of wabi-sabi we can again begin to appreciate the texture of life—as expressed through human authenticity & natural process.

Perfection has a hallow ring next to the real.

site credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/523613894147062572/      


*If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: “Authenticity & The False Self”  

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

§ 29 Responses to Wabi-Sabi: The Beauty of Imperfection

  • joehefferon says:

    Thank you for including me in your beautiful piece

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Oh, it was my pleasure, Joe. Your article was very enriching & beautifully articulated. I’m so pleased you enjoyed mine as well. 🙂

      On on!


  • Karol says:

    I love this! Reading this was like a badly needed breath and the gratitude that follows. Thank you!

    • Tai Carmen says:


      Thank you for telling me, Karol.

      I think we could all use some wabi-sabi perspective in our lives. 🙂

      Thrilled the post provided that needed breath!

      On on!


  • Neha says:

    making me think of all the ways, conscious and unconscious, with which i am tampering with my own authenticity. Thanks for writing this.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      I’m so happy to hear it could help re-ground you, Neha, in that most important of centers—authenticity.

      It’s been a theme of mine recently as well. And I’ve found it very helpful in my journey. It’s a joy to hear it’s resonating with others. 🙂

      Have you read my other post on the subject,

      “Authenticity & The False Self?”

      Might find it interesting as well.

      On on!


  • Reblogged this on the awakened eye and commented:
    Tai Carmen at Parallax Journal has written a post that’s inspired me to do something new (for me) – click the reblog button.
    My studies in Japan introduced me to the concept of Wabi-Sabi and my heart took to it like a moth to a flame. It was in Kyoto that I found Leonard Koren’s book “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers”; a magnificent companion for me during my days in Kyoto as well as the more remote regional areas I visited.
    “To find beauty in imperfection is not intuitive to the Western mind.” We race after what should be, and romanticise what was, ensuring that we rarely see what is. Wabi-Sabi turns our perception towards what is, and more. It treasures it. There is great fulfilment in this.
    Thank you Tai.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Miriam, 🙂

      I love hearing about your own journey with wabi-sabi—in the country of its birth, no less! And your time with Leonard Koren’s book, which I have just discovered.

      It is so true that the Western mind is trained to focus on anything but what is—what has been, as you note, and what could be.

      Here’s to more wabi-sabi moments!

      On on,


  • Susannah says:

    Years ago I was delighted to read that Japanese master potters used to leave a slight flaw in their works to honour the beauty of imperfection, and it was a joy to read your article expanding on that concept.

    For the first time in my blogging life, I’m reblogging someone else’s work. Thank you for this thoughtful article and the gorgeous photos!

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank *you*, Susannah, for the kind words & the interesting note. What a beautiful idea! I enjoyed seeing the picture on your blog of your favorite bowl with the ripple on the edge. It really does look more beautiful for that slight anomaly, as it draws the eye & whispers of the human hands that built it…no mechanized generic perfection! But the gentle, thoughtful touch of an artist.

      I’m thrilled you enjoyed the post. Thank you so much for your comment.
      On on!


  • […] morning I came across a blog post by Tai Carmen, that caught my eye, and my interest.  I’ve reblogged it here so that others who may not […]

  • Saia says:

    Beautifully eloquent & awakening to the Soul … I so enjoy the journey You take Us on Tai , Your blog is pure bliss , thank You

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! It was a joy for *my* soul to read. 🙂

      So nice to know my aim is being achieved.

      On on,


  • “nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished.”
    That’s beautiful and that’s what make some things and some beings precious to us.

  • Bertold says:

    Reblogged this on Five by Nine and commented:
    In einer Zeit des Höher, Schneller, Weiter, Schöner und Besser geht uns hin und wieder der Blick für die Ästhetik des Nicht-Perfekten verloren.

    Perfektion und das Streben nach Perfektion sind im Prinzip gute Sachen, sie können uns aber von der Veränderung und dem ersten Schritt abhalten: Wenn es nicht perfekt ist oder wird, dann lasse ich es am besten bleiben.

    Tai Carmen hat einen wunderbaren Artikel (in Englisch) zur Schönheit des Un-Perfekten verfasst, den ich an dieser Stelle mit Freude re-blogge. Es muss nicht alles perfekt sein – lassen Sie sich inspirieren.

  • alanseyes says:

    The soothing, natural, introspective aesthetics of classical Japan are indeed a refreshing counterpoint to the mechanical, synthetic “beauty” of the Western world. I could spend days meditating on wabi-sabi, yūgen, and mono no aware.

    Thanks for another great post.

  • […] i’m distracted, what photos do i have to accompany death? What’s that japanese art where the beautiful sits next to the decaying. wabi-sabi. […]

  • […] i’m distracted, what photos do i have to accompany death? What’s that japanese art where the beautiful sits next to the decaying. wabi-sabi. […]

  • What a lovely concept! I’ve been attracted to the aesthetics of Japanese minimalism for a very long time and only recently came across wabi-sabi. The whole idea of seeing the beauty in what some would call ugly calls attention to our habit of using dichotomies in our every day life when it is a concept that separates and divides rather than unites. Wabi-sabi goes along with my own journey into dissolving those human-made descriptors and seeing things and human interactions with as they are.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      So true. So many of the seeming opposites that our Western society dichotomizes are in fact paradoxes with underlying unity & inter-relating connectivity. Integrating these seeming opposites does seem to be a primary objective of the seeker’s path, and a road to inner peace. Thank you so much for your comment! So glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂

      On on, brave traveller!



  • […] and Understanding Japan: A philosophy and aesthetic as worldview, by Jack Richardson, 11 April 2016 Wabi-Sabi: The Beauty of Imperfection at PARALLAX: The Quester’s Companion, by Tai Carmen Woodville, 31 March 2014 WHAT IS […]

  • Rhea says:

    Who is the photographer of the aged woman and which year was it taken? thanks

    • Tai Woodville says:

      I’ve been trying to figure this out. I feel terrible that this post is lacking image credits. I will keep looking and let you know when I figure it out! (I thought I had my bases covered by inserting my source link in a section of the post visible to me, however the link now just goes to a Pinterest page that is not the image in question.)

      I’ll keep sleuthing. There is a tool I just learned called “reverse google” or something & you drag and drop the image in the image search window….It usually then shows several of the same image. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing that with this, and it just shows my page…but if you care to try that it might lead you somewhere.


    • Tai Woodville says:

      Rhea, I just wanted to let you know that I did the “reverse google image search” until I had followed every link presented and finding an image credit to this photograph has proved totally maddening & elusive: several of the images link back to my blog, and the rest all link back to dead-end pinterest pages. :/ I got it from Pinterest originally so unfortunately it seems to be a Pinterest casualty. If you do find out the photographer, please do let me know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Wabi-Sabi: The Beauty of Imperfection at PARALLAX:.


%d bloggers like this: