Monday, March 03, 2008

Wabi Sabi

Impermanence and imperfection.

I first became familiar with wabi sabi as a potter and sculptor. Clay is a temperamental, mercurial medium, subject to extremes of temperature, application of caustic minerals and elements, the whims of carving instruments and the desires of artisans to literally beat mud into shape. Indeed, a goal of potters working in porcelain is to pull the clay surface so thin it achieves a sublime and ethereal translucence.

Even after many, many years of working in clay, most of my pots and sculptures suffer imperfections: huge, rending cracks, asymmetrical centers, glazes that crawl beyond desired borders. Sometimes, I got lucky - the mistakes turned out beautiful, like the glaze on a recent raku tile that emerged from smoldering ashes a greenish gold rather than a purple metallic. But usually, the mistakes are irreversibly ugly; after all, there is not much you can do to correct a huge crack.

Or is there? Japanese potters celebrate their imperfect pots by stuffing the cracks with gold leaf.

When I read the latest version of BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, I still see flaws. Not huge gaping holes - these have been fixed, if not with gilt and glue then at least heavy hack-sawing and prose propping. But I'm finding as I rewrite, I fix the blemishes and then, on yet another reread, revert them back to their original imperfect form.

You see, there is beauty in these mistakes.

Wabi sabi - nothng is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished.

What a relief...

Peace, Linda


  1. Beautiful post!

    I spent a year of my life learning pottery. I loved it but it wasn't my real calling. I do intend to take some classes later on in life, just to get the mud in my hands again!

    There are definitely parallels between forming something out of clay, and forming something out of words.

  2. Linda,

    "Wabi sabi - nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished. What a relief..."

    I agree. It is a relief to accept that things don't have to be perfect. I remember when I read John Dufresne's The Lie That Tells A Truth and came across the following quote from Ernest Hemingway: "All first drafts are sh--." After reading that, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, and now I was free to make as many mistakes as my pen could make. There will always be time to shape and fire the project later.

    Thank you for your thoughtful posting.

  3. Heidi, I've recently realized that the reason I love to revise my writing is because of the 'shaping' and 'building' parallels to clay and glass work. Thank you for dropping by... I've been a lurker on your blog and always enjoy your insightful posts.

    Stephen, great quote from the master. I believe the art of writing is something that manifests itself in that first, often rough draft; the craft comes into play upon revision. Neither art nor craft alone is sufficient. Thanks for commenting... and may you continue to write, imperfect or not! Peace...

  4. Hi Linda, I was trying to find anything at all on the Japanese technique of filling cracks in pottery with precious metal, when I came across your blog. Do you by any chance know the name for this technique (is there one?) and/or where I might find more information on it (its history, philosophy, process, etc.) I would be so grateful! Incidently, I enjoyed reading your blog on wabi sabi very much. It's a concept I'm only superficially familiar with, but would like to explore. Embracing our imperfections as intrinsically beautiful: imagine!
    Thanks so much,