Yesterday Steve in St. Paul mentioned (with characteristic modesty) that he won a photo contest organized by a group of camera enthusiasts who challenge each other to offer exceptional images that connect to a declared theme. In the case of Steve’s winning entry, the theme was the Japanese notion of wabi sabi. What is wabi sabi? Steve will explain it in a moment. But first, here’s the picture.
Wabi sabi is an oriental concept of aesthetics. It holds that things can be beautiful if they are worn, aged, broken or missing parts. In fact, not only can such things be beautiful, but there is an inner beauty to things that have served well and now look like they have served well. So a westerner trying to understand the concept might think that my photo was pretty “in spite of” the wear and tear on the Bible. To an oriental mind, that worn Bible is far lovelier than a new one could be. This aesthetic is one reason orientals tend to honor older people. It is the opposite of the western tendency to chase the young, the shiny, the perfect.
Well done, Steve. I think that’s a gorgeous photo. And the older I get, the more I appreciate the idea that there can be great beauty in things that are aged, worn, bald, bleary eyed, a little jowly, and in desperate need of a shave. Especially first thing in the morning.
The trick is getting everyone else to see that.
Steve is right about our fascination with the shiny and “perfect”. It would take a cultural shift for us to embrace the idea that there is a dignified beauty in a well-used object. Perhaps the slow disintegration of the baby boom will make gorgeous decrepitude the Next Big Thing, rather like the revived TV career of Betty White, but for everyone.
Right now, Wabi-Sabi in the USA is limited to 4 locations in California. I like the looks of the one in Rancho Cucamonga.
Do you have a favorite object that reflects this notion of wabi-sabi?