The Allure of Wabi Sabi


With roots in Japanese culture, the art of Wabi Sabi is one that focuses on the imperfections of certain forms and creations. These forms can be artificial or natural such as man made pottery or mountain landscapes. The emphasis on these creations is one of natural imperfection, resulting in a blur of the genres of artificial and natural. The Wabi Sabi we are talking about however, is the one concerning the artificial genre of pottery. 

In pottery, more than half of the process is up to the will of the kiln and the firing process, where anything could happen. Personally, I have had bowls knocked off the shelf by the pots of others falling onto them and glazes just run straight off the form onto the kiln shelf. These effects are destructive and are clear imperfections that are not part of Wabi Sabi as they are not contributing to the form. Wabi Sabi is not the allure and art of making mistakes unintentionally, it is about captivating the natural imperfections that work with the form rather than against it. 


Look at how the drips from the bottom of the pot look delicate and symmetrical, almost liquid like. This is a clear example of a natural imperfection as it does not take away from the from while instead giving it character. These drips of glaze are unintentional, but not out of the realm of reason. When thinking about Wabi Sabi we do not want to create strict rules of what happens in the creation process, but we leave boundaries for things to happen up to chance. Perhaps this piece could have come out with only one or no glaze drips. It is as if it was a cooperation between man and nature, as I made the form and nature was the kiln. 


If we are trying to set boundaries where natural imperfections can occur, how can we set these limits without having too much control over the process. Boundaries where there is too much control can often lead to too artificial imperfections. Perhaps in the realm of pottery, you could try techniques such as layering glaze randomly, where in the kiln, nature can dictate whether or not it wants the glaze to run a certain way. When we talk about replication of Wabi Sabi, we do not mean an exact replica of every form, instead we talk about recreating the environment that the form was created in. Some of these environments include randomly throwing soda ash in the kiln during firing, giving a presence of material for the kiln to work with. 


The allure of Wabi Sabi comes in inherently in human nature as it reminds us of the wilderness we came from. The subtle imperfections of the mountains and trees seem natural to us and it is just the law of the tree and mountain. The tree grows not in any specific way, but in a guide-like state where the laws of nature dictate what it can and cannot do. Trees cannot suddenly grow legs and run. Natural forms and boundaries are set to their creations while artificial forms are often in total control by the creator, humans. Wabi Sabi is a technique that incorporates this natural genre into the form, creating harmony. A balance between artificial and natural, which hints towards a sense of home for viewers. To return to nature.