I am currently very occupied and fascinated with the Japanese design principles of Wabi Sabi. Reading about the life philosophy and aesthetic ideals of Wabi Sabi (which is based on Zen Buddhism), I feel like so many of my thoughts on what good design consists of, and on the connection between human beings and objects we surround ourselves with, are put into words. The focus on beauty in imperfection, in transition, in the thought that time adds depth to objects (in stead of depriving them of their initial qualities) intrigues me. And makes perfect sense to me.
The Wabi Sabi expression is asymmetrical or irregular, and it possesses a certain randomness; the materials used and the artist/ designer should be in “dialogue” during the creation process in the sense that the artist/ designer should let the material lead a great part of the shaping process, instead of being occupied with an overall conceptual idea. The materials used are natural, and they show the passage of time, and provide the experiencing subject with a stimulating tactile experience. The vulnerability and decay of the objects are viewed as adding value to the design experience; the changing colour and texture, creates a bond between the experiencing subject and the object, and adds a degree of melancholy (due to the impermanence of all things) to the expression. Objects created in accordance with Wabi Sabi are made of materials that are visibly vulnerable to the effects of weathering and human treatment. Wabi Sabi is not shiny, flashy and new. It is rough, gloomy, and subtle.
There are similarities between Wabi Sabi aesthetics and the sublime aesthetic experience, which in brief terms is connected to asymmetrical compositions and complex expressions. These similarities are for example the disregard of conventional understandings of beauty, the irregular, gloomy, and rough, and the stimulation of mental activity. However, where the sublime experience, in philosophical writings by e.g. Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998), is connected to fear and challenges; the experiencing subject is overwhelmed by vast nature or chaotic structures that in theory could expand into infinity, the Wabi Sabi expression offers an instant sense of peace by affirming human impermanence and imperfection. And it does this in a modest and subtle way. Wabi Sabi is connected to details, to uncompromising simplicity, and to to irregularity.
Recommended books: “Wabi Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” and “Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence“