Wabi Sabi, flawed beauty & the school of things
Wisdom in natural simplicity and beauty. What the Japanese term; Wabi Sabi. This zen philosophy offers an interesting lens through which we can experience beauty. Rooted in the concept of Wabi Sabi is that beauty can be achieved through asymmetry & irregularity, simplicity, basic & weathered textures, subtle profound grace, tranquility and an unboundedness from convention and pretence.
My interest in ‘art from the east’ (by this I simply mean art created by artists born or trained in Japan, China, Korea, etc.) was peaked by Cai Guo-Qiang’s work and later Lee Ufan and his fellow artists from the Mono Ha art collective.
Many of these greats are prolific in their work; using drawing, sketching, installations, performance and more to express their ideas about life through art. The common-thread being a deep understanding and appreciation for the environment and how it affects both the process & the product.
As an example, the Mono Ha art movement (loosely translated the school of things), active from 1968-75, attempted to reconfigure art through the reduction of objects to their basic form. Artists would often draw artistic expression from materials such as stone, wood and paper (on their own or in combination with each other).
What most would call minimalism today, as commodified and stripped of all grace as it is now, has its roots in these philosophies of simplicity and tranquility. Often this type of expression is not only tranquil but requires a tranquility and pensiveness from the viewer to truly experience it. Lee Ufan speaks about how simple brushstrokes are only art because of what they make the viewer feel.
In reflecting on these principles as well as debates on what is and isn’t beauty or art, Japanese visual artist Akasegawa Genpei had this to say (paraphrased).
Everything in our capitalist society has to have a purpose. So where does that leave the ‘useless’ things....can you even give them names when their only role is to be? Probably not.....you can only call them art, works of art shaped like things!