capturing its evanescent essence. For me, beauty’s transient and elusive nature only intensifies the attraction. I agree with Thomas Moore when he said “[b]eauty is not defined as pleasantness of form but rather as the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation… beauty is a source of imagination…” 1
I am oriented towards the original Classical notion of impermanence and transience that has no theologised concept of afterlife; this notion came to us through the ancient Greeks and Romans and is preserved in the Latin phrase memento mori, “remember you must die”. A Christianised usage developed later, which interprets the notion in the sense that you should live your life considering the afterlife. The changing significance given to “remember you must die” is itself an example of the transience of meaning.
Recently I have become familiar with the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. I now identify strongly with it in my aesthetic; it resonates at a deep level but also parallels my understandings of the didactic and moralistic overstatements of the Vanitas works in western tradition based on the Christian usage of memento mori.
Defining wabi-sabi is difficult, as one of its attributes is that it’s not subject to strict written definition; rather, it is a “felt” thing. It is not a distinct “style” but more like a way of thinking with no list of rules. Wabi-sabi is an overarching and deep-rooted philosophy of aesthetic that is centred on the acceptance of transience based in Zen Buddhist teachings. It acknowledges that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect:
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.2
One of the critical differences of wabi-sabi against what have become our classical ideas of beauty is the appreciation of features such as asymmetry, irregularity and authenticity – it is not about the seeking of perfection. Wabi-sabi is the ability to find beauty in imperfection and those things natural, and, with that, accepting the