Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi

Japanese Minimalist Aesthetic

“Wabi-sabi” is a Japanese expression that can be roughly translated “cold loneliness” or “withered isolation.” Wabi-sabi is a uniquely Japanese concept of artistic beauty, and even though it doesn't have anything to do with Zen strictly speaking, it has a major influence on art forms traditionally associated with Zen such as the tea ceremony or rock gardening.

Wabi-sabi refers to an artistic quality that is not completely finished or not completely symmetrical. Unlike in Western art, where a garden might be considered especially beautiful if it was perfectly symmetrical in design, a garden designed according to the principle of wabi-sabi would be deliberately off-center. It would also be likely to give the feeling that something was missing. For instance, the design might draw your eye to an area of the garden where you would expect to see something such as a rock or a small bush, but the expected object would not be there.

 

If an artistic creation has wabi-sabi, it will evoke a feeling of loss or yearning or melancholy along with the feeling of beauty. Wabi-sabi is all about the beauty of impermanence, which is a fundamental concept in Buddhism. This is why wabi-sabi is associated with Zen, even though impermanence is no more important to Zen than to any other sect of Buddhism. Wabi-sabi art-forms are minimalist, understated, dignified and quietly serene. “Too much is never enough” is almost exactly opposite from the feeling of wabi-sabi, which could perhaps be summarized as “not quite enough may still be too much.”