Wabi-Sabi Tutorial–Part 2

A year ago I ran into a book at the Taos library, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. It must be in every library in the country because this had to be at least the third time I found it (in three different towns). Each time I took it home with a thrill of excitement and curiosity. Now the book is like an old friend. Anyway I decided to do a blog then defining Wabi-Sabi and taking photos for it that would illustrate its concepts. Here is a LINK to this former blog: Wabi-Sabi Anyone?

First, a short definition: Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese ideal of beauty based on surface characteristics of earthiness, imperfection and variegation. It is everything that is not modern, smooth, polished, purely decorative, or mass-produced. Wabi-Sabi is about the present (time frozen), finds truth in the uncontrollability of nature, even romanticizes it.

Things Wabi-Sabi reflect the natural process of life on planet earth, the cycles and ravages of time, the effects of weathering, the dents, stains and cracks of attrition. However, objects will still possess an undiminished poise and strength of character.

This very old native sage is an example of aging with dignity. Note the rusty tin can in the lower right corner. With Wabi-Sabi there is always an underlying sense of change and impermanence.

 Here the lack of substance felt in the white morning glories reaching toward the white clouds also touches on an aspect of Wabi-Sabi, a sense that things are not as substantial as our culture presents them. We know that in a few hours the flowers will be losing their present form and the clouds will be long gone. The photo also illustrates that sense of present time–here today, gone tomorrow.

My daughter took this photo two summers ago. This was a new environment for them and Emma was exploring the world of the beach only a short distance from their house. Every element in the photo relates to the natural setting and shows how integrated Emma is with that, especially with the birds and the breeze. Seemingly she has become one with it all.

Wabi-Sabi colors tend toward muddy, earthy tones, and this photo reflects the brownish color of the water, it’s patterns of flow defined by subtle gradations of light and dark. The large and softly rounded rock defines the surface of the water with its soft light colored surface and explains the dynamics of the presence of the autumn leaves stranded near the river bank.

It’s mid-November as I write this and certainly a Wabi-Sabi time of year, if there was one. Nature reminds us every day that the future-oriented seasons in nature, spring and summer, are clearly behind us. All we have for now is the present and for the next month or so, until the Winter Solstice, we feel our daily sunlight diminishing . The sensation is one of going backward, rather than forward, and toward the dark rather than the light. There is a vague sense of loss in the air. All very Wabi-Sabi, as it reminds us strongly of the impermanent and cyclical nature of our existence.

It’s easy to guess that this photo was taken at the Taos Pueblo. It is all about the beauty of Wabi-Sabi with it’s earthy adobe textures, the rounded natural shapes in the lower right corner. Only the white door offers a clue about our present modern time and its contrasting squared shapes. I feel this juxtaposition of aesthetic styles highlights the more dominant Wabi-Sabi elements.

This is a photo of a painting I did earlier this year, which conveys a Wabi-Sabi sense of change and impermanence. The inspiration was a drawing I did after listening to a dream shared by one of my Ketchum friends in our weekly dream group. In her dream she was falling down through the branches of a tall tree in a forest. In the dream this was not as painful as it sounds. I think our dream group interpreted it (and the dreamer concurred) as freeing, a transformational letting go of attachments. This would explain why there are small branches falling (looking like deer antlers) and not autumn leaves. I made a gift of it to my sister Linda and her husband Eric who created (and support) my beautiful website.

The last zinnia, aging gracefully.