May 29, 2010

Imperfect beauty

Trying to understand the wabi aesthetic of the tea ceremony is very difficult because it is difficult to quantify.  One of the principles of wabi is "fukanzen no bi"  or imperfect beauty. 

Most people thnnk that there is a universal kind of beauty, but each person has a different sense of beauty -- depending on our culture, education, country and upbringing.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  For example, the line from the ocean to Mt. Fuji is beautiful, but a cloud obscuring part of the line is more interesting and beautiful to some people.

The usual concept of beauty is close to perfect. Bronzes and celedon ceramics from China were of perfectly symmetrical beauty where each side matched.  The tea masters in Japan thought that it was boring.  They looked to Korean rice bowls -- asymmetrical, earth toned, rough textured and thought them beautiful.   These bowls, with their imperfections were more human. That led Rikyu to create raku.   Raku bowls, because they are not turned on the wheel, are made to fit in the hand and it doesn't conduct heat well so the hot tea in it will not burn your hand. Raku means enjoyment, ease, pleasure or happiness.

Oribe and shino ware are very popular with tea students and potters.  But these are not my personal favorites because there is so much bad oribe and shino copies out there.  Oribe knew just how far to push the boundaries, while copies of his work often go beyond.  Students think that just because it is distorted, or rough it must be wabi and therefore beautiful. Purposeful distortions of the form, sloppy craftsmanship, or just plain ugly pieces abound.  Wabi is not slobby.

Tea students must be able to differentiate between forgiving imperfection, and celebrating imperfection. Celebrating imperfection leads to weird stuff for its own sake rather than looking at the individual strength of the piece and forgiving its imperfections because of its strengths.

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