“Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional…
It is also two separate words, with related but different meanings. “Wabi” is the kind of perfect beauty that is seemingly-paradoxically caused by just the right kind of imperfection, such as an asymmetry in a ceramic bowl which reflects the handmade craftsmanship, as opposed to another bowl which is perfect, but soul-less and machine-made. “Sabi” is the kind of beauty that can come only with age, such as the patina on a very old bronze statue. Wabi and Sabi are independent word stems in normal speech. They are brought together only to make a point about aesthetics. Sabi is most often applied to physical artistic objects, not writing. A well-known examplar of what one would call a “wabishii” object: black spit polish boots with dust on them from the parade ground. Many Japanese pots, the expensive ones, are dark and mottled — wabi. “Sabishii” is the normal word for “sad”, as in, that was a sad movie. A related term in literature and the arts is “clinamen”, the act of deliberately breaking a stylistic rule to enhance the beauty of an otherwise perfect whole. French writer GeorgesPerec , who also wrote the first book in that language on the GameOfGo, was a master of the technique. It’s not obvious whether clinamen is exactly the same as Wabi, absolutely antinomic to it, or on the gripping hand something else altogether.”(Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers [Web])
Or it may also be a world-view:
“Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” (Wikipedia)
Fascinating stuff. But so many questions! Are there perfect forms of wabi-sabi? Can we add patina to make something wabi-sabi? Should we ‘accept’ impermanence or affirm it? Should we not want to preserve the best examples of wabi-sabi? Does it mean I should not finish my book, my projects? Does it mean acceptance of what we cannot change? It feels like a bundle of overlapping ideas and attitudes. Perhaps we just need to accept that.