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Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts

Author: Leonard Koren
Rating: 9/10
Last Read: 11/2017

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts seeks to expand upon Koren's previous work Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Koren seeks to clarify some of the concepts that were introduced in his first work, and provide more context to the interested mind. He also discusses some interesting topics, such as whether digital art can ever express wabi-sabi.

If you liked the first book and want to further refine your understanding of wabi-sabi, read Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts.

My Highlights

wabi-sabi =

The aesthetic other.

  • a contrast/differentiation from the dominant aesthetic convention.
  • bulwark against sameness
  • rejection of the Chinese-derived taste for smooth, symmetrical perfection
  • Wabi taste: irregular and rough-textured objects, aka the aesthetic other in that historical context

The transfiguration of the commonplace.

  • Beauty of wabi-sabi is a perpetual event; it is not an inherent property of things
  • Wabi-sabi "happens" when conditioned and habituated ways of looking at things fall away, when things are defamiliarized
  • The beauty of wabi-sabi involves perceiving something extraordinary in something that might otherwise be regarded as quite ordinary, undistinguished or barely there.

Beauty at the edge of nothingness

  • Infinite potentiality of nothingness
  • Distinctiveness comes from something which is so faint, tentative, delicate, and subtle that it may be overlooked - or mistaken as trivial or insignificant.

Elegant Poverty

  • "Poverty" in this meaning as the mindset of non-attachment, I.e. not holding onto fixed ideas or material things.
  • "Elegant" refers to a graceful acceptance of restraint, inconvenience, and uncertainty.


  • Represented by entropic processes of nature made visible
  • Chaos and unpredictability, producing variety and interest
  • Under the right conditions, imperfection-embodied things can arouse a sense of empathy.

In the era of wabi-tea, the Japanese telling of the creation process: "things spontaneously appear beyond the technical and conceptual intervention" of artists or designers. An egoless point of view. wabi-sabi "occurs", it is not "created" or "made"

Reluctance to make wabi-ness a mode of agency

Anonymously made objects taken from other contexts and used in new ways. Broken things, both common and special, are fixed, leaving scars of repair, and put back into service.

Never up to the fabricator to decide whether or not something is wabi: it's up to the individual beholder.

"According to Rikyu, a preoccupation with things in and of themselves is tantamount to a spiritual failing"

"Sloppiness, whether by design or accident, is the result of thoughtlessness. Thoughtlessness has no place in the wabi-sabi concept."

The modern project:

  • Reason is superior to all other forms of cognition
  • Science offers the ultimate solutions to mankind's problems
  • The world is "broken", but in the future things will be better.
  • It is necessary for humans to master nature
  • Look for universal solutions to fit all instances and circumstances


  • Reason is only one of many equally important modes of cognition
  • Science can only solve a limited range of mankind's problems
  • The world simply "is", and always will be so
  • Humans and nature are one; there is no master, there is no slave
  • Look for specific solutions for particular instances and circumstances

"Wabi-sabi is based on effortless, uninterrupted interactions with real (actual) things in the real (actual) world. The real world is dependent only on a consciousness to perceive it."

"Digital reality, on the other hand, requires the effort of someone (the encoder, the device maker) to exist, and is dependent upon machinery and an external power source. When either the will of the maker, the machinery, or the power fails, digital reality ceases to be."

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