Monthly Archives: January 2008

a philosophy of decay

Saturday 12 January 2008

A new year has unfolded, and freed from the ugly consumerism of Christmas, I have been contemplating more on my fractured philosophy of art and life, trying to resolve an anxiety with the direction my work is taking (I am not a post-modern political artist) and a desire to do and see things a certain way. How heartened I was (and enlightened) to have discovered Wabi-Sabi, an acceptance or appeciation of things imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, modest, humble and unconventional.

According to Leonard Koren in Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Wabi-Sabi:
exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details, the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes…. rich in raw texture and rough tactile sensation. Their craftsmanship may be impossible to discern…. the suggestion of a natural process, irregular, intimate, unpretentious, earthy, murky, simple….

Wabi Sabi seems to have its philosophical roots in Shintoism and Zen Buddhism, Wabi denoting a separateness from mainstream sociey, and Sabi, an aesthetic appreciation of things devoid of ostentation, pretension or artifice. There is a good article on this at The Hermitary.

I feel a strong connection with the organic, subtle, ambiguous and elusive nature of Wabi Sabi (even the Japanese cannot rationalise it); the rough edges, aged patinas, the appreciation of weathered forms and base materials. It is the perfect antidote to the outwardly westernised synthesis of perfection we succumb to daily – it speaks more softly, discreetly, unassuming, a visual poetic language uncluttered by modern technological thinking…

photograph of a dead sunflower - wabi sabi
Decaying Sunflower January 2008

Although I didn’t go looking for Wabi Sabi, I think that this most gentle of philosophical aesthetics has found a new philosophy in me…