Read it if… If you are intrigued and inspired by the aesthetics of traditional Japanese art, with its attention to the melancholic representation of the trace of the passage of time.
In this book, Andrew Juniper invites us to explore with his simple and easily accessible exposition the spiritual principles of the Wabi Sabi concept, which in turn forms the conceptual basis of the Japanese artistic experience, and shows us with multiple examples how it is linked to the philosophy of the Zen school of Buddhism, to which he owes so much.
Central to the philosophical scheme of Zen Buddhism is the postulate of the impermanence and ‘imperfection’ of reality: none of the components of our ‘reality’ is ‘perfect’ (read ‘finished’ or ‘complete’) because it is constantly in motion. within the continuum of its creation from ‘not being’ to its inescapable disappearance back to ‘not being’. The understanding or understanding of this postulate forces us to choose between different vital positions while in turn it can generate feelings of restlessness and melancholy in us, both central to Wabi Sabi sensitivity.
“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 (p. 51). Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition.
The Zen monks saw in the arts an opportunity to show and value this process aesthetically, a way to share their beliefs and transfer their spiritual wisdom through art. Consequently, they stood out in the evolution of Japanese arts in poetry and painting, ceramics and gardening among others. As Juniper explains, “Japanese value art for the wisdom it enshrines and for its ability to transfer this wisdom to others. But for true wabi sabi art, it is the impermanence of the piece that makes it so special, and therefore a large part of the value according to it lies in its ephemeral nature and in the fact that the same moment will never come again.”
After a concise presentation of the concept of Wabi Sabi in Japanese history and an analysis of the intimate interpenetration of its spirit with Japanese culture, Juniper analyzes how it manifests itself in the various arts, before moving on to an analysis of the principles of design as manifested in the different arts.
It is the final section of the book that I had a hard time relating to. Juniper takes a prescriptive attitude that was actually unnecessary given the original purpose of the treaty and that, to some extent, betrays much of the spirit behind it. In this section he seeks to draw parallels with similar experiences in the Western world and attempts to recommend a wabi sabi life as a programmatic solution to the problems besetting the Western world, whereas until then he described wabi sabi as a reflection and projection of the Japanese spirit, formed over many centuries. This type of appropriation, transposition or whatever you want to call it, very typical of some American self-help schools, are hardly the solution to the challenges presented to us today by the centuries-long evolution of our own collective cultural experience.
This is not an academic book aimed at specialists in the field, but rather a concise, accessible, and well-organized introduction for lovers of Japanese art and culture seeking further clarification on this exciting topic.
Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence – Understanding the Zen Philosophy of Beauty in Simplicity, by Andrew Juniper, Tuttle Publishing