Extract from: 'WABI SABI SUKI: The Essence of Japanese Beauty' – by Itoh Teiji
The refined and elegant simplicity achieved by bringing out the natural colours, forms, and textures inherent in materials such as wood straw, bamboo, clay, and stone, as well as in artifacts crafted from them like earthenware, tile, handmade paper, and lacquerware, and in textile fibres like hemp, cotton, or silk – this is the core of Wabi. Wabi may describe beauty in nature untouched by human hands, or it may emerge from human attempts to draw out the distinctive beauty of materials. While eschewing decoration, contrivance, or showiness, Wabi treads the fine and precarious line between beauty and shabbiness. To discover Wabi, one must have an eye for the beautiful, yet it is not an aesthetic understood by the Japanese of old, but a quality that can be recognized by anyone, anywhere who is discriminating and sensitive to beauty.
Patina of Age.
Beauty that treasures the passage of time is Sabi, echoing the original meaning of the word: rust or patina. Objects or constructions created from organic materials and used in daily life are of course beautiful when they are brand new. But Sabi describes the new and different phases of beauty that evolve in the course of their use and enjoyment, and the conviction that the aesthetic values of things is not diminished by time, but enhanced. The wear and tear of daily use, lovingly repaired and attended to, does not detract, but adds new beauty and aesthetic depth. Indeed, Sabi is at its ultimate when age and wear bring a new thing to the very threshold of its demise. Appreciation of Sabi confirms the natural cycle of organic life – that what is created from the earth finally returns to the earth and that nothing is ever complete. Sabi is true to the natural cycle of birth and rebirth.
Originally expressing attraction, fascination and curiosity, Suki is aesthetic adventure beyond conventional standards; delight in the unusual, curious or idiosyncratic. Initially, Suki seems to have expressed an idea of beauty that was heretical and unorthodox. The shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori (1399-1441) was a patron of the arts known for his revolt against old and established aesthetic rules. His salon was receptive to bold and new ideas that were to become firmly established in the sixteenth century as what we might describe as “subtle elegance”. Many today are devotees of Suki, the pursuit of beauty in unconventional forms and guises, but their search continues to be faithful to the quality of subtle elegance, which circumscribes the ageless essence of Suki.