What does Wabi Sabi mean? Wiebke Katsoudas interviewed about imperfection
Imperfection runs throughout our universe. Breaks in symmetry, disruptions in homogeneous structures, and copying errors in biology have driven evolution and created an incredible planet with a variety of amazing creatures. Already Stephen Hawking recognized, "Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist."
But this value of imperfection does not only find its place in science. In our daily lives, too, we can bring a philosophy that leads us away from the endless pursuit of perfection.
By Native founder Wiebke Katsoudas talks to us about the Wabi Sabi style, the values behind it and how we can use it to simplify and decelerate our lives.
What is Wabi Sabi? Meaning and origin of the philosophy
The aesthetic concept from Japan is closely linked to Zen Buddhism, trying to lead us away from a rigid Western ideal of beauty that idealizes artificiality and consumerism. 'Wabi' thereby expresses a modesty bordering on poverty, as well as imperfection and loneliness. It is accompanied by 'Sabi', a withering and aging through the passage of time. The philosophy of Wabi Sabi combines these two parts in the art of recognizing beauty in the simple and ephemeral, and seeing the value behind imperfection.
The Japanese concept formed its first features as early as the seventh century and was then increasingly taken up in the Middle Ages. Its name was finally given in the 16th century by the Japanese Zen monk Sen no Rikyū. The aesthetic concept runs through architecture, various art forms such as Japanese gardens, the traditional garden art bonsai, ceramics and the traditional tea ceremony of Japan.
At the same time, nature is always granted its beauty. Western artificiality is rejected and the transience of plants, objects and works of art is accepted and even welcomed. Traditional tea bowls, for example, show cracks and other imperfections that were intentionally created when the ceramics were heated.
Today, the Wabi Sabi philosophy is not only found in Japan, but also in Western cultures. Our hectic way of life, characterized by unreflective mass consumption, meets with more and more opposition and the need to slow down our lives and make them simpler arises. In the process, Wabi Sabi finds its way into our houses and apartments, because it is here that many long for tranquility, natural simplicity and authenticity.
Raw beauty: living room aesthetics with Wabi Sabi elements
The doctrine of the beauty of the imperfect
Wabi Sabi in living is now making itself felt in connection with purism and minimalism. Less is more - a principle that runs through the interior design trends. In this context, By Native founder Wiebke Katsoudas describes Wabi Sabi as a kind of "imperfect purism". For while purism and minimalism oppose the overstimulation of mass consumption, they strive for perfection and idealize an artificial beauty. Wabi Sabi accepts what is otherwise often considered a flaw: patina, small flaws, traces of time. They are not only tolerated, but appreciated. Katsoudas emphasizes that Wabi Sabi is not just a living trend, but a "philosophy and attitude to life" that can influence our entire lives.
The By Native founder also sees similarities with Scandinavian hygge. As with Wabi Sabi, this is a way of thinking that focuses on certain values, such as closeness to nature, the use of natural as well as simple materials and products. Objects with history and signs of age are valued in both philosophies, as well as quality, durability and comfort.
The Wabi Sabi definition - beyond the borders of Japan
It is precisely these values and their embodiment in everyday life that are now also appreciated outside its country of origin. Katsoudas emphasizes, "Wabi Sabi may have its roots in Japan, but I'm sure it can be experienced and created anywhere where simplicity, authenticity and naturalness work together."
Wabi Sabi thus shows its presence in the living area through the respectful treatment of high quality furniture and objects, as well as their reflective and conscious selection. Whether passed down from generation to generation or chosen with care, the things we surround ourselves with should not clutter our own four walls, but tell a story. In this way, we not only bring intentional imperfection into our home, but with it, character and an ambience in which we feel comfortable.
Concrete and warm wood: minimalist bedroom in Japan
Photo credit: Joseph Albanese
Wabi Sabi, meditation and our world
Making furniture and accessories perfectly imperfect also means working with the flaws of time. Broken things are repaired and thus get the chance to be something old-familiar and at the same time something refreshingly new. According to Katsoudas, Wabi Sabi thus becomes a "counter-design to the soulless consumer and throwaway society". When an object seems to have had its day, it is not simply disposed of, but repaired. In this way, new life is breathed into it and it acquires a dignity that a new object must first earn over time.
The By Native founder emphasizes that Wabi Sabi allows us to change our perspective. Nowadays we are always striving for perfection, the highest level of productivity and flawlessness. Wabi Sabi can teach us to question these values and thus live our lives more slowly and thoughtfully. In this sense, meditation is also closely related to philosophy, because through it we should also learn to live more consciously.
According to Katsoudas, deceleration and a reflective lifestyle would help not only us but also our world in the process. She poses the question, "How much less wasteful and kinder would our modern Western society be if we embraced the idea of impermanence and not only accepted imperfection, but celebrated it?"
She emphasizes that Wabi Sabi and its ancient wisdom can help us find solutions to the negative consequences of our mass consumption. With Wabi Sabi we can see and understand the world differently and turn away from the endless materialism that is seriously damaging and changing our planet. Thus we can set a sign for sustainability and take responsibility.
And it is not only the wisdom that the Wabi Sabi philosophy brings that is worth talking about. Katsoudas also believes that the aspect of craftsmanship should by no means be neglected. "Wabi Sabi also always means handcrafted pieces," she lets us know. There is no question that even today traditional craftsmanship comes into play, creating unique and unrepeatable products from materials such as solid wood or even natural fibers. The value of such a product is to be measured due to its uniqueness incomparably higher - in comparison to an industrially manufactured mass product. Not least because of an incomparable history, which refers to the manufacturing method alone.
The wilting of a cherry blossom, cracks in a ceramic bowl ("Kintsugi") repaired with gold or silver, an old piece of inherited furniture - Wabi Sabi can be found in all these things. The simple and bitter-sweet beauty of transience is reflected in the highlighting of blemishes, in the traces of time. Thus, by painting with gold or silver, special attention is paid to the cracks in the ceramics, the transience is presented as the most beautiful part. The cherry blossom is so aesthetic precisely because it does not always bloom, but the short period of flowering is followed by that of withering. And the old piece of furniture becomes familiar to us through its history and permanence. It was there for the generation before us, just as it is there for us now.
Everything is imperfect, and that is what makes our world special. Errors, blemishes, traces of time should not be eliminated, but appreciated and admired. Because as Stephen Hawking already pointed out, without this imperfection we would all not exist at all.
Old, Ibizan market bags are lovingly staged here.
Photo credit: Monique Ibiza