Research – Japanese Aesthetics

9 04 2009

Japanese aesthetics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The explicit formulation of an aesthetics in the Western sense only started in Japan a little over two hundred years ago. But, by the Japanese aesthetic we tend to mean, not this modern study, but a set of ancient ideals that include wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), and yûgen (profound grace and subtlety). These ideals, and others, underpin much of Japanese cultural and aesthetic norms on what is considered tasteful or beautiful. Thus, while seen as a philosophy in Western societies, the concept of aesthetics in Japan is seen as an integral part of daily life. Japanese aesthetics now encompass a variety of ideals; some of these are traditional while others are modern and sometimes influenced from other cultures.

Shinto is at the fountain head of Japan and, with its emphasis on the wholeness of nature and character in ethics, sets the tone for Japanese aesthetics. Nevertheless, Japanese aesthetic ideals are most heavily influenced by Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness. This ‘nothingness’ is not empty space. It is, rather, a space of potentiality.[ If we take the seas as representing potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. There are no perfect waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated. This appreciation of nature has been fundamental to many Japanese aesthetic ideals, “arts,” and other cultural elements. In this respect, the notion of “art” (or its conceptual equivalent) is also quite different from Western traditions (see Japanese art).

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Wabi and sabi refers to a mindful approach to everyday life. Over time their meanings overlapped and converged until they are unified into Wabi-sabi, the aesthetic defined as the beauty of things “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” . Things in bud, or things in decay, as it were, are more evocative of wabi-sabi than things in full bloom because they suggest the transience of things. As things come and go, they show signs of their coming or going and these signs are considered to be beautiful. In this, beauty is an altered state of consciousness and can be seen in the mundane and simple. The signatures of nature can be so subtle that it takes a quiet mind and a cultivated eye to discern them. In Zen philosophy there are seven aesthetic principles for achieving Wabi-Sabi

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