I’ve been reading a bit about a certain kind of japanese philosophy called “wabi-sabi”, which is a japanese world-view and aesthetic. The list, which contrasts wabi-sabiwith modernism, is from Koren’s book, which contains many beautiful pictures of objects that embody the wabi-sabi philosophy. There seems to an inherit satisfaction in thinking about these juxtapositions for me. Perhaps favoring neither, but seeing the validity of each of the opposing stances.
|Primarily expressed in the public domain||Primarily expressed in the public domain|
|Implies a logical, rational worldview||Implies an intuitive worldview|
|Looks for universal, prototypical solutions||Looks for personal, idiosyncratic solutions|
|Expresses faith in progress||There is no progress|
|Believes in the control of nature||Believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature|
|Romanticizes technology||Romanticizes nature|
|People adapting to machines||People adapting to nature|
|Geometric organization of form (sharp, precise, definite shapes and edges)||Organic organization of form (soft, vague shapes and edges)|
|The box as a metaphor (rectilinear, precise, contained)||The bowl as a metaphor (free shape, open at top)|
|Manmade materials||Natural materials|
|Ostensibly slick||Ostensibly crude|
|Needs to be well-maintained||Accommodates to degradation and attrition|
|Purity make its expression richer||Corrosion and contamination make its expression richer|
|Solicits the reduction of sensory information||Solicits the expansion of sensory information|
|Is intolerant of ambiguity and contradiction||Is comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction|
|Function and utility are primary values||Function and utility are not so important|
|Perfect materiality is an ideal||Perfect immateriality is an ideal|
|Everlasting||To every thing there is a season|
What’s so fascinating about these two philosophies and aesthetics is how they contrast so sharply, and yet share so many conceptual similarities. As Koren puts it in his book:
- Both apply to all manner of manmade objects, spaces and designs.
- Both are strong reactions against the dominant, established sensibilities of their time. Modernism was a radical depature from 19th-century classicism and eclecticsism. Wabi-sabi was a radical depature from the Chinese perfection and gorgeousness of the 16th-century and earlier.
- Both eschew any decoration that is not integral to structure.
- Both are abstract, nonrepresentational ideasl of beauty.
- Both have readily identifiable surface characteristics. Modernism is seamless, polished, and smooth. Wabi-sabi is earthy, impefect, and variegated.
Wabi-sabi being summed up as the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Is is a beauty of things modest and humble.