Leonard Koren

wabi-sabiWabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. 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
It is also two separate words, with related but different meanings. “Wabi” is the kind of perfect beauty that is seemingly-paradoxically caused by just the right kind of imperfection, such as an asymmetry in a ceramic bowl which reflects the handmade craftsmanship, as opposed to another bowl which is perfect, but soul-less and machine-made.
“Sabi” is the kind of beauty that can come only with age, such as the patina on a very old bronze statue.
Wabi and Sabi are independent word stems in normal speech. They are brought together only to make a point about aesthetics. Sabi is most often applied to physical artistic objects, not writing. A well-known examplar of what one would call a “wabishii” object: black spit polish boots with dust on them from the parade ground. Many Japanese pots, the expensive ones, are dark and mottled — wabi.

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