Monday, November 10, 2008
Wabi Sabi-"Nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect."
'Earth, Wind and Fire' - A painting I did a few years back, maybe 6 or 7 years back, that I thought would be a good illustration for this blog post of mine. It's a 30x40 oil on linen.
"Wabi-sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things." (Juniper, Andrew. Wabi-sabi: the Japanese Art of Impermanence. Boston: Tuttle, 2003)
I might be getting off track here in terms of a blog about posting paintings. But is it? I need to get out more because I've only discovered this philosophy now. I've read the The Tao Te Ching (also called "The Tao", by Lao Tzu, have read a little about Buddhism but must not have read enough to know about 'wabi sabi'. But I recognize the universality of it's presence in the other writings and way of life.
To be honest, I was reading an article in the magazine, 'Wooden Boats' ( I'm building a little one and 'nothing is finished' applies here! ) about an artist who paints pretty contemporary looking paintings of old traditional wooden boat structures.
The writer said that the paintings and subject matter acknowledged 'wabi sabi' and went on to say that it referred to the Japanese aesthetic that "nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect".
That really peaked my interest because my interests are most often in things and activities that are made by hand, that are old and have some sort of aesthetic that transends the 'glitzy' part of our society. I am an archer and shoot a wooden flat bow, make my own arrows, am building a wooden boat, tie my own flies for fishing, and in general appreciate those things in our world that look to most people (other than artists in many cases) like they should be torn down and rebuilt. I am typing this on an iMac, not sending smoke signals, so there is compromise of course.
When I'm out painting, I don't stop at the metal pole barns to paint, or the asphalt parking lots and new construction, by choice. I am not a fan of painting industrial things either. They do not make me feel comfortable. I'm a painter who is trying to pass along my deep seeded love and joy in the subjects that I choose to paint to others, and most of those subjects seem to be either a little out of the way corner that usually is overgrown and "unnoticed" by many! It's just my choice. I am not slamming anyone who would rather paint glass and steel skyscapers, or the grand subjects such as mountain peaks and majestic waterfalls. I've done that too, a little bit, but not with the same conviction and interest that I've found along the shore of the local swampy little pond. It's just that I'd rather find a 90 year old shed that is about to fall over in the next 5 mph wind to paint. I've always been like this. Reading about 'wabi sabi' is causing me to reflect on what it is I paint and why in a very positive way.
I'm constantly amazed by the discovery of ideas that have been here for so long that every one, but me, knows about it. I googled 'wabi sabi' and quickly realized that there are wabi sabi blogs, books (here's one that I'm going to get and read-Koren, Leonard. Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1994), art, photographs and on and on. I never did investigate 'feng shue' but probably should have.
"We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, to see the beauty of the commonplace. It is so much better to make much out of little than to make little out of much-better to make a big thing out of a little subject than to make a little thing out of a big one. " (Hawthorne, J.C. Hawthorne On Painting. Dover Publications, 1960)
Charles Hawthorne was a painter and teacher who understood this philosophy either consciously or by instinct. Many of us respect what he had to tell us through this book published by his daughter. It's full of the same sort of consciousness for painters and is also worth reading.
As artists we are constantly aware that we are a little different than a lot of the other people around us if simply by the nature of what and how we do what we do. Now it's comforting to know that we have a connection to humanity that the ancient cultures have recognized and practiced for eons.
Am I the only one who didn't get the memo on this? ;-)
"Wabi-sabi, as a tool for contemplation and a philosophy of life, may now have an unforeseen relevance as an antidote to the rampant unraveling of the very social fabric which has held [us] together for so long. Its tenets of modesty and simplicity encourage a disciplined unity while discouraging overindulgence in the physical world. It gently promotes a life of quiet contemplation and a gentle aesthetic principle that underscores a meditative approach. Wabi-sabi demotes the role of the intellect and promotes an intuitive feel for life where relationships between people and their environments should be harmonious. By embodying the spirit to remind itself of its own mortality, it can elevate the quality of human life in a world that is fast losing its spirituality." (Juniper, Andrew. Wabi-sabi: the Japanese Art of Impermanence. Boston: Tuttle, 2003)