May 2011

Wabi Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Stone Bridge Press

  • P.O. Box 8208
  • Berkeley , CA


Wabi Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren is an exploration of the preeminent Japanese aesthetic, wabi sabi. As Koren explains, wabi sabi is more than just a set of visual guidelines for art and architecture; it describes an approach to living that has developed over centuries in Japan. Koren defines wabi sabi on his opening page: “Wabi sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.” In this thoughtful and poetic book, Koren examines how the wabi sabi aesthetic developed over time and how it can inform creative endeavors today.

According to Koren, the origins of wabi sabi's embrace of simplicity and naturalness can be found in Taoism and Zen Buddhism. In the 16th century, wabi sabi formed into a fully realized aesthetic in Japan with the emergence of the tea ceremony. Koren offers graphic charts that describe how the “wabi sabi universe” is represented in its philosophy, morality, and material qualities. In his final chapter, Koren gives concrete descriptions of the visual manifestations of wabi sabi: there is a suggestion of the natural process (allowing objects to become weathered or tarnished), objects are often irregular, spaces are kept intimate, and in general there is an unpretentious and earthy quality to all things wabi sabi.

As we learn from this book, wabi sabi is more than just an approach to creating art; wabi sabi offers an approach to living. So not only does Koren's work offer an artist or designer inspiration and insight into Japanese aesthetics, it also provides an interesting window into the Japanese mind. This slim volume is highly recommended for all who are interested in an in-depth exploration of the subtle, natural beauty for which Japan has become known.

Reviewer: Mollie Jones, FIDM Library Staff Member