Wabi-sabi does share some characteristics
with what we commonly call "primitive art:' that is, objects
that are earthy, simple, unpretentious, and fashioned out of
natural materials. Unlike primitive art, though, wabi-sabi almost
never is used representationally or symbolically.
Originally, the Japanese words "wabi" and "sabi"
had quite different meanings. "Sabi" originally meant
"chill:' "lean:' or "withered." "Wabi"
originally meant the misery of living alone in nature, away from
society, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional
Around the 14th century, the meanings of both words began to
evolve in the direction of more positive aesthetic values. The
self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit came
to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness. For the
poetically inclined, this kind of life fostered an appreciation
of the minor details of everyday life and insights into the beauty
of the inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature. In turn,
unprepossessing simplicity took on new meaning as the basis for
a new, pure beauty.
The term "aesthetic" refers to a set of informing values
and principles-guidelines-for making artistic discriminations
and decisions. The hallmarks of an "aesthetic" are(1
) distinctiveness (distinction from the mass of ordinary, chaotic,
non-differentiated perceptions), (2) clarity (the aesthetic point
has to be definite-clear-even if the aesthetic is about unclearness),
and (3) repetition (continuity).