This is a great philosophical little book (lent to me by my dad) which explores the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi.
“Wabi-sabi 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,” says the author Leonard Koren.
But it's something the Japanese struggle to explain, they don't really have the words for it, yet it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese "pantheon of aesthetic values" as the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection. It's a particular type of beauty, the closest English word is probably "rustic".
He goes on to describe it as being related to "the more emphatic anti-aesthetics that invariably spring from the young, modern, creative soul: beat, punk, grunge, or whatever it's called next". And he compares it to Modernism, which was a radical departure from 19th century classicism and eclecticism, suggesting that: "wabi-sabi was a radical departure from the Chinese perfection and gorgeousness of the 16th century and earlier". But while Modernism is seamless, polished, and smooth; wabi-sabi is earthy, imperfect, and variegated. Got that?
As is the nature of these things, while I'm pondering this information what should pop into my inbox but the latest work from London-based Japanese ceramicist Reiko Kaneko. New to her Drip Tease range is the Egg Cup which makes a feature of the goop that drips down the side of a boiled egg, and there's also the excellently titled Crack of Thunder Mugs, worth a purchase for the name alone, with it's crack marked in gold. Apparently, in Japan broken china was always glued back together and the crack gilded to accentuate the flaw. Wabi-sabi? Bingo.
Since reading this book I've found myself thinking about how when things are a bit too perfect they just don't feel quite right, I'm currently at the point and shout "wabi-sabi" phase, eg. crumbling tiles on Lisbon buildings? "Wabi-sabi". Five star hotels? "No wabi-sabi!" Etc.