Human survival dictates we are inevitably heading towards a time where nature will exist in the history books and in this respect to 'return to nature' is now more important than ever - surely embracing a return to our nature (our source, our origins) is vital to the modern psyche after being locked up in isolation for well over a year, not to mention that cacophony of modern technologized input and aestheticized materiality so engrained in our lives: "Diversity of the cultural ecology is a desirable state of affairs, especially in opposition to the accelerating trend toward the uniform digitalisation of all sensory experience, wherein an electronic 'reader' stands between and observation, and all manifestation is encoded identically" (Koren, 1994:8)
The unimaginable affluence attained in the West has left something of a spiritual void; a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose. Spirituality seems to equate to religion in the West, or certainly, as I was growing up and any mention of any 'enlightenment' was seen as 'hippy shit', I grew up when marketing was in full effect - it appears to have no intention of subsidence no matter how ethical agencies strive to be. Unattainable capitalist hopes and fantasies are perpetually sold to people by advertisers. Andrew Juniper points out: "It is now the media who have an omnipotent say in how we see ourselves. How scary and undesirable is that? Yet the fact remains we all need meaning in order for our lives to have a sense of purpose, and it is the media and advertisers who hold great sway of our meaning structure. However, without this sense of purpose, we could find ourselves adrift in the sea of indifference and apathy, and this is one of the great dilemmas facing mankind in this age" (Juniper, 2003:147). Juniper goes on to quote Albert Camus, stating that on one side of the coin 'life without a sense of meaning intolerable': "Man is a creature who spends his entire life trying to convince himself that his existence is not absurd" (ibid. p.147), but on the other side of the coin quotes Okakura Tenshin to claim that focussing on the meaning of existence makes us 'heavy and self-important': "How can one be so serious with oneself when the world itself is so ridiculous?" (ibid. p.147). It truly is a dilemma, we can't live in a way where we have no meaning and purpose, but at the same time, the artificial, sanitised, materialistic versions of existence offered up by the media are truly lacking in substance.
Leonard Koren stated that when wabi-sabi first came into his consciousness, he saw it as an appealing antidote to the materialistic advertising media versions of events: "Wabi-Sabi seemed to be a nature-based aesthetic paradigm that restored a measure of sanity and proportion to the art of living. Wabi-sabi resolved my artistic dilemma about how to create beautiful things without getting caught up in the dispiriting materialism that usually surrounds such creative acts. Wabi-sabi - deep, multi-dimensional, elusive - appeared the perfect antidote to the pervasively slick, saccharine corporate style of beauty that was desensitising American society" (Koren, 1994:9). Creativity can breathe, with real substance, by adopting a wabi-sabi attitude. It goes without saying how demand for material goods to meet rising populations seriously impacts our environment and puts pressure on the world's resources.
"...despite the emergence of pop culture, there still lies deep within us an innate longing for arts and environments that will help to put our perceptions back into some sort of perspective. It is through these varied mediums that people...gently remind themselves of their intrinsic fragility and use these sensory cues as a springboard for attaining a more profound sense of themselves., helping to see through the folly that pervades much of daily life. It is the uncompromising touch of death that can put a keener edge on our appreciation of life" (Juniper, 2003:145-146)
"Wabi-Sabi, as a tool for contemplation and a philosophy of life, may now have an unforeseen relevance as an antidote to the rampant unravelling of the very social fabric, which has held men together for so long. Its tenets of modesty and simplicity gently encourage a disciplined overindulgence in the physical world. It gently promotes a life of quiet contemplation and a gentle aesthetic principle that underscores a mediative approach. Wabi-Sabi demotes the role of the intellect and promotes an intuitive feel for life where relationships between people and their environments should be harmonious. By emboldening the spirit to remind itself of its own mortality it can elevate the quality of human life in a world that is fast losing its spirituality" (Juniper, 2003:148).
Artists can possibly resolve the truly dispiriting dilemma of modern society' fabric by returning to a time when art was concerned with when creatives innocently strived to bring an element of spiritual value to their work. Now is a time more than ever to return to nature, what is essential and important for us as a species, as opposed to perpetuating in this is vacuous chasing of what is unattainable. "The sanctuaries of this beauty are not in cities, or in metropolitan museums or galleries; they are concealed in the ever fewer natural spaces of our planet. They are distant, extemporaneous, autonomous, secret models; but of enormous value, because the aesthetic feeling they awaken helps artists and human beings to understand the essence of life. Its original transparency; its mysterious simplicity; its great power of renewal for the future" (Jacobo Siruela in Yamamoto, 2020)
Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.
Juniper, Andrew (2003) Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Japanese of Impermanence. Tuttle Publishing
Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Introduction by Jacobo Seruila. Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.