Wabi-Sabi Anyone?

While wandering around the stacks of the Taos library the other day I came upon a familiar book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. This could be my 3rd round of the “excitement of discovery” finding this book. Like running into an old friend. I thought to myself, why Taos is a very Wabi-Sabi kind of place, by its own definition. Aren’t we always talking about how we love the insubstantial elements of the beauty here, the play of light, the textured earthiness of adobe. And don’t we love the absence of things modern and slick and up-to-the-minute fashionable?

This might look familiar to those who frequent Ojo Caliente hot springs. It’s part of the iron pool. Here’s a quote from the book: “Beauty is…an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.” I like that beauty is not a thing of beauty, (like love is not a loved one). We know we can experience beauty just by walking outside at dusk and feeling the warm rosy light interacting with our familiar objects, like our garden or a fence. It’s the interplay between objects and the natural world, with a sense of time, the moment, the very vulnerability of our human existence. The sound of a raven or a mourning dove can evoke a similar Wabi-Sabi moment.

This was taken on the back side of the famous Trampas church. It’s obvious purpose is to drain water off the roof, but at the time I took the photo I was having a big “a-ha” moment. Everything about it was weathered, had a look of useful service and yet held itself together with a sense of quiet, understated dignity. The blue of the sky was held in pure focus by the arrow shape, almost as though the whole sky was coming down through that narrow channel.

This photo I took in the bottom of one of the ditches in the orchard under an apricot tree. Notice the state of decay in the apricots, from tantalizing juicy orange they have transformed into shriveled, aged grays and browns. Their textures are no longer smooth. The green grass tells the story that it is not winter yet, but the condition of these apricots portends more break down ahead for other fruits of summer. All these are Wabi-Sabi qualities. There is a tranquil sense of things portrayed as inevitable looking.

This Ganesha statue is rough in texture, has a noticeable chip in it that makes it a “2nd.” It’s about a foot high, and very heavy. It sits next to my front door and I wanted to elevate it. When I located the rock that has a strange pointy shape (in the middle) I just had to use it, as it seemed almost as significant, in itself, as the statue. There was a bit of suspense in incorporating it, since I also wanted the heavy statue at the top to look and be solid. I have felt respectful of the outcome of this project these past months. I wasn’t thinking Wabi-Sabi then, but now I see it fits.

It was painful to choose this last photo as there were several contenders raising their hands and waving them in my face. I just wanted to say a little on behalf of the book. The author, Leonard Koren, feels that Wabi-Sabi is important to talk about, to quantify, so to speak, because it is the last hallmark (my word) of traditional Japanese beauty. It roots are very ancient, originating with tea masters, priests and monks steeped in the traditions of Zen Buddhism in Japan. As a philosophy it speaks to an acceptance of the impermanence of life, a view of life that can embrace moments of loneliness and tender sadness. This very much appeals to my own sensibilities and I find it an aesthetic worth naming and claiming.

3 thoughts on “Wabi-Sabi Anyone?

  1. I am inspired by this aesthetic-so simply pure and earthbound,under our feet so to speak-I sat in the iron pool only noticing how my skin felt. I have always kept my eye on those thngs that are beautiful; have wished to point others in that direction-now maybe a more clear…switching lens of perception can occur to our amazement and consternation. Thank you Kate PS I forwarded to a couple of artist friends

  2. Anyway, I have always had a wabi-sabi sense of aesthetics, still not really understanding the concept but in a partial way.
    I feel there is a sense of sweet sadness to the beauty, an unassuming, often overlooked beauty, but deeply rooted in nature and time. It is the anthesis of a lot of what I have run from and am running to.
    Thank you, Kate, for your reflections and beautiful photos.

  3. So often photos capture the idea of Wabi-Sabi better than craft objects because the photographer learns to recognize the pattern of no pattern, the beauty of what is already there awaiting discovery. Kate’s strong artistic sense, revealed in her photography, make her an excellent ambassador to this Eastern concept. Keep writing about Wabi Sabi, Kate!

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