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  • Writer's pictureBeate Gillson

Japanese art/aesthetics/Japonisme/ Oshibana/Wabi-Sabi/Haiku/Kintsugi/yugen

Today I feel the need to write about the way the Japanese art and aesthetics have influenced me. As this theme is too broad to even touch in one post, I will split this into a couple of posts, but begin with 6 terms.

Japonisme; a French term, was given to the art movement, that influenced the Western world after 1858, and its unique aesthetics hold still, 162 years later a fascination for many, including me. It influenced politics, and power structures and individuals. From Vincent van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Klimt, firstly through the woodblock prints- the ukiyo-e, their use of water-based inks with vivid colours and transparency possibility, opposed to the Western world, where oil-based inks were used.

Oshibana; the art of drawing with petals, reaches back to the 16. Century, where Japanese warriors were said to have created Oshibana as one of their disciplines to promote patience, harmony with nature and power of concentration. Princess Grace Kelly became in 1980 the ambassador for the Oshibana society, opened a museum in Monaco, and published a book on the same topic.

Wabi-Sabi; represents the aesthetic understanding based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, an appreciation of the beauty of things which are imperfect, incomplete and impermanent. Things in decay or those in bud are evocative of wabi-sabi and are therefor appreciated. The concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of 3 marks of existence: sanboin= impermanence; mujo= emptiness, or the absence of self; ku= suffering. Beauty in decay, life’s circle, a limited life span, simplicity, irregularity, chips and cracks, and wear and tear, natural objects, respect of the unpredictable, integrity, solitude, desolation. The same way as nature presents itself.

Haiku: is a very short Japanese poetry form and has 3 main characteristics: 1= the essence is ‘cutting’ (kiru). Two images or ideas have a ‘cutting’ word between them, 2= traditionally 17 syllables are in 3 phases, 5-7-5.. and 3= a seasonal reference. Haiku is traditionally printed in a single vertical line in Japanese and in 3 lines in English. It seeks in a handful of words to crystallise an instant in all its fullness, encouraging through the experience of the moment, the union of the reader with all existence. In Zen it is said, that are glimpses like these in Haiku, rather than the study of doctrine, that lead to enlightenment- the realisation of the true nature of existence. The same way as paintings, photographs, stories, sculptures are using that technique of empty spaces and symmetry, what Haiku manages with words. The viewer/listener must complete it in their own mind.

Kintsugi: the ‘golden repair’, is a century old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with gold, silver, or platinum. The method celebrates each artefact’s history by emphasizing the fractures, instead of hiding them, or disguising. Linked to the wabi-sabi philosophy, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect, and regret if something is wasted and rather accept the change. There is the aesthetic potential in all objects.

Yugen: it derived from the Chinese philosophical concept. Meaning -dim, mysterious or deep. It shows more by showing less and limiting the amount of information. Leave things to the imagination, vaguely suggesting, what is beyond expressing, Yugen is a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of nature and the sad beauty of human suffering. I love this word- that can be used, if there are no words!

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