On Beauty and Imperfection

There is a Japanese aesthetic practice known as kintsugi 金継ぎ, or kintsukuroi 金繕い, that I fell in love with several years ago when I first learned of it in an art course I was taking. It is based on the tradition of wabi-sabi 侘寂 which is a worldview that embraces impermanence and imperfection. It involves taking a broken piece of pottery and repairing it with lacquer mixed with gold or silver. But the repair does not conceal the cracks. On the contrary, it accentuates them to demonstrate their imperfection as beauty.

I’ve thought about this concept a lot over the years, especially in regard to my own life. The tendency in our culture is to feel shame for our brokenness or damage. To be humiliated by our differentness. To be embarrassed by age and infirmity. To obscure our wounds, as if they were never there to begin with. But this concealment has never made sense to me.

We are all imperfect beings, broken by the careless or deliberate actions of others, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes by the world. I believe it is in this imperfection where the potential of beauty lives. Our wounds are cuts sown into the loam of our soul. And it is only in those wounds that seeds can be planted. To expose them to the wrong kind of seed can cause more trauma and heartache. But to hide them completely puts a halt to growth, an end to empathy, and it makes living an empty show of banal conformity.

Our bodies are mortal. From the soft, warm womb they climb up toward the light of day. But after the days of youth have faded, those moments where many of us think we are invincible, those bodies will age and crack and bend to the whims of time and the indifference of the elements. Eventually, the flesh that enwraps our organs will become sallow. Our bones, those unsung heroes of physicality that hold us up every day, will disintegrate to dust.

But this impermanence is also the source of creation. It is eternal. And from brokenness comes something new. The wounds inflicted on us by this life can be mended, but their seams should never be concealed. After all, they are the highest form of beauty. Imperfection allows atoms to marry, genes to descend, and canyons to be carved. From it comes music and art and spoken word. It should gain our greatest gratitude, because without it, we would not even be here to begin with.

Kenn Orphan March 2021

*Title image is a Japanese bowl repaired in the tradition of kintsugi.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

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