Wabi-Sabi: The Art in Everyday Life

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-5-45-40-pmBy Leigh Morrow

Standing on the polished marble floors of the Louvre on Paris’s Right Bank, I was gobsmacked by the sheer size and scale of this world-class collection of art.

My eyes soaked in the armless beauty of the Venus de Milo, stood close enough to see the fine visible brush strokes of the Old Masters, and could almost hear the music playing as Louis XV entered his palace, wearing the bejeweled crown displayed in front of me. The 70,000 pieces of the Louvre’s immense collection are considered the finest art collection on the planet.

Yet “art” is everywhere if you desire it.

It is the humble beauty of our everyday lives. Simplicity, rustic elegance, imperfection are all elements to perceive art, or beauty, in a wabi-sabi world. Wabi-sabi is a perspective that was coined in Japan, a philosophy that helps us find beauty, not as magnificent or as grand as that found in the Louvre, but rather a concept that is in direct contrast to our Western ideals of beauty. Wabi-sabi is an art form that appreciates the ingenious integrity of natural objects and the serenity that comes with age. It is the wisdom in natural simplicity, and the training to find fascination in the most basic and natural objects, like falling autumn leaves.

Wabi-sabi is perhaps the perfect antidote to my Western upbringing, which teaches value in perfection, symmetry, grandeur, and things that stand the test of time, including us, as media and advertising unrelentingly repeat.

You won’t find wabi-sabi in botox, glass-and-steel skyscrapers, smart phones, or the drive for relentless self-improvement. It’s a beauty hidden right in front of our eyes, an aesthetic of simplicity that reveals itself only when animated through the daily work of living.

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover Wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Bringing wabi-sabi into your life doesn’t require money, training, or special skills. It does take a mind quiet enough to appreciate muted beauty, courage not to fear bareness, willingness to accept things as they are—without ornamentation. It depends on the ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, to appreciating rather than perfecting.

You might ignite your appreciation of wabi-sabi with a single item from the back of a closet: a chipped vase, a faded piece of cloth. Look deeply for the minute details that give it character; explore it with your hands. You don’t have to understand why you’re drawn to it, but you do have to accept it as it is.

Rough textures, minimally processed goods, natural materials, and subtle hues are all wabi-sabi. Consider the musty-oily scene that lingers around an ancient wooden bowl, the mystery behind a tarnished goblet. This patina draws us with a power that the shine of the new doesn’t possess. Our universal longing for wisdom, for genuineness, for shared history manifests in these things. Wabi-sabi is the often overlooked art that truly beautifies our everyday lives.

Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean-front community of San Agustinillo.

To view and rent her two bedroom property, visit:


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