Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosphers

I recently read Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets &Philosophers by Leonard Koren, and I recommend this book to those of you who love and work with vintage materials because it articulates so clearly their appeal and beauty.
Because wabi sabi is a core concept of Japanese culture, there is much more in this book than design principles or ideas.  However, when Koren talks about the material characteristics of wabi sabi, it seems as if he could be talking about the vintage materials we source and use at Bumbershoot Designs and Bumbershoot Supplies. Vintage materials often show time-related wear. Wabi sabi recognizes that all things are imperfect, and “tarnish…peeling…signs of attrition are a testament to histories of use”. Further, “Things wabi-sabi have no need for the reassurance of status or the validation of market culture…it is best if the creator is of no distinction, invisible or anonymous.” This reminds me of the deep respect I have for the artisans who created the beautiful vintage glass we enjoy today.  Although not precious gems, these glass pieces are also precious, a result of collaboration between many skilled artisans at each of the several steps in their manufacture, artisans who are unknown to us today, unrecognized for the beautiful items they created.
This is a short and accessible book, with lots of white space throughout the text, and interspersed with black and white photographs that to the author’s mind illustrate the concept of wabi sabi.  Koren explains the genesis of wabi sabi in the tea culture of Japan, the meanings of “wabi” and “sabi”, design principles associated with this aesthetic and the larger philosophical underpinnings of wabi sabi, providing a good overview of this important component of Japanese culture.

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