The meaning of the words wabi and sabi has evolved over many centuries and in the Zen style, their meanings are subjective and always open to interpretation. When put together wabi sabi has developed into an aesthetic ideology, but its purpose is not simply for artistic sake. Wabi sabi, which translates roughly as humble beauty, is also a practical philosophy that infuses the concepts of ecology and sustainability with human emotions and spirituality. Wabi sabi views life from a poetic approach with the intent of imparting a sense of peace and bringing us back to our roots, to nature. It endeavors to refine notions of beauty so that you begin to value items that are organic, imperfect, simple and old and your personal connection with them. Because a wabi sabi home embraces the passing of time by including objects that are old and perhaps worn by the passage of time, its rooms will be full of character, personality, and life. Living in a wabi sabi environment can endow you with a view of the world that naturally can help you through difficult times. You become more in tune with nature, flowing with it rather than fighting it. This flexible, open approach makes it easier to adapt and respond to our ever-changing world.
Wabi refers to a way of life that is simple, non-materialistic, humble, appreciative and considered. A wabi person would be happy with very little and content within him or herself; this is someone who has transcended the need for material wealth when it comes to self definition. Wabi is the antithesis of pretension and ostentation. It is the embodiment of humility. With regards to art and design, it connotes a modesty of choice, a naturalness that is unassuming, referring to austerity of design without severity.
Sabi can be applied to imagery that is transient – the appearance of something that shows its age, that imparts something of its life. This could be the patina of an old leather jacket, weathered stone or seasoned wood. Sabi represents the passing of time and is tinged with sadness, perhaps a longing for the carefree existence of childhood. Sabi is spoken of as that which has “mellowed by use, acquired the patina of age, is reticent and lacking in the assertiveness of the new.” Things rusty, worn, or tarnished exhibit the quality of maturity that is sabi. Often referred to as the “bloom of age,” it is a quality that can only be achieved through long years of existence. It is neither created nor induced. It simply occurs through the natural process of exposure to the elements or long years of fond usage and the elapse of time.
Together wabi sabi is a combination of both the physical and metaphysical. It’s the inside and the outside, the yin and yang. Or as Robyn Griggs Lawrence stated in her book, The Wabi Sabi House, “it represents a material manifestation of a key spiritual concept.”
Credits – Taken from the books, “Practical Wabi Sabi” by Simon G. Brown and “Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” by Leonard Kore