Japanese Aesthetic of Wabi Sabi

In the western world, aesthetic is considered as a branch of philosophy that relates the concepts of value and beauty to the aspect of art. Philosophers, from the time of Plato had rigid ideas, regarding the concept of aesthetic and differed on what the artist should create (Hemmings 2012). The major extremes that guided any form of art was what was to be created and what people should like. This confirms that innovation was not majorly appreciated, and basically the designs focused on the attributes that would make the people happy. Presently, aesthetic represent a broader approach of philosophy, and encompasses a lot of things, both observable and imagined thoughts. In broadest view, aesthetic may be different depending with the culture. What a particular set of group considers important , it might be completely dissimilar for others hence diversity(Evans 2003).

Objects that are categorized as art , for example, in western culture, might portray completely different meaning when put into context of other countries(Geczy and Karaminas 2013). Precisely , people hold different stances on what they consider important of any form of art, and this makes it difficult to unionise certain beliefs. In other words, commonality in objects of art never exist, which makes the fabrics of culture that a certain state clings on(Gale and Kaur 2004). For example, in the western states, there is no clear disntiction between fine art and craft.

To understand the development and growth of art and aesthetic, it is paramount to have a deep analysis of Japan, which has a unique history in this esteemed history of designing objects, that portrays the meaning to the outside world. Its geographic location and strings of islands that are one hundred miles form Korea and five hundred miles from China, made it to develop  a unique fashion(Gale and Kaur 2004). Separated by the sea, Japan existed as an isolated state, and this protected them from invasion and improved contact with other nations. In this state of isolation,the people developed their own art forms and aesthetic, that were specifically Japanese.The  condition of leaving with little contact with the outside therefore, saw the birth of Wabi-Sabi . It is defined as  the traditional Japanese aesthetic centered on acceptance of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete (Gardner 2006). It shows the beauty of thing humble and  modest.

Wabi-sabi is the most important and unique aesthetic concept in Japan, and its influence is extremely far-reaching and extensive.In addition of traditional tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and pottery, Ando Tadao’s fair-faced concrete buildings, MUJI’s life groceries, and 45rpm clothing all reflect the beauty of Wabi-Sabi , and has even become “the most popular and fashion trend of furniture in 21st century.” The aesthetic concept of Wabi-Sabi also applied by foreign designers. For example ,the Wood Casting series of furniture exhibited by Hilla Shamia which from Israel during the Milan Design Week.In fashion industry, Issey Miyake is the designer which truly immersed in Japanese culture and the designer who interprets Wabi-Sabi concept best.

Tracing the past history of the design and fashion industry, it is clear that a lot of transformations have occurred fueled by a number of factors such as improved technology and change in the lifestyle. More than before, people are embracing the westernized form of dressing, while leaving the traditional designs to the tune of being forgotten. However, Granata (2017) view this concept as embracing other cultures, which can result to deterioration of the precepts that guides a set of group in a particular country. One of the prolific designer, who has heavily capitalized on Japanese design to propagate the idea of Wabi-Sabi is Issey Miyake. With cogent understanding of the importance of fashion, he combines technology with creativity, to being out the taste of Japanese culture. He becomes a case study when it comes to this field, and the focus of this paper is to show how he has represented the country by his fine innovative clothes. This essay will display  the work of Issey Miyake in Wabi-Sabi and the affection Asian culture to Europe.

Japanese Aesthetic of Wabi Sabi
Japanese Aesthetic of Wabi Sabi

As an extremely complex aesthetic value, Wabi-Sabi is difficult to find a corresponding in foreign language. Therefore, when Japanese introduce Wabi-Sabi to the world outside of Japan, a series of short sentences and phrases are often used to make a broad, multiple, and flexible description. Leonard Koren described it as a hybrid for introducing Wabi-Sabi“a beauty of things imperfect,impermanent,and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble it is a beauty of things unconventional”. Wabiis the century began to receive positive comments. It is the simplest and most pristine state. The aesthetics of the substance can be roughly defined as: wild interest, simple, incomplete or irregular natural beauty. Sabi is a life attitude that transcends life and sorrow into a peaceful and spiritual realm. In particular, the impermanence, loneliness and vicissitudes of the time disappear by the passage of time.In short, Wabi-Sabi expresses the beauty of incompleteness, imperfections, nature, simplicity, silence, humility, etc.

In the 1990s, Issey Miyake designed the garments which burn the fabric in fire. He often went to the workshop to find defective fabric, and hoping to see their own characteristics and the inspiration that these broken beauty gave him. Therefore, this process of searching for beauty is also a process that transcends human nature. The perfect method makes it easy for people to pay attention to the form itself, while ignoring the inner spirit. When we carefully taste this simple, unfinished “imperfect” beauty, we will think that it is more original, more grounded, and closer to the beauty of humanity. This unfinished state also reserves a lot of space for the viewer to extend. In their world, the shortcomings mean that they have to be perfected. This plasticity is more fascinating than the perfection.

Issey Miyake often makes adventurous attempts in the selection of materials. In 1983, on the stage of the Paris fashion week. It was contrary with smoothness and softness of bespoke tailoring fabrics. His collection used feather-woven fabrics was amazing. Fabrics become a new breakthrough in his overall fashion design philosophie. Even the most mundane materials, in the pioneering eye of Issey Miyake, can maximize the presence and authenticity of fabrics, and explore the inner spiritual beauty. With the advancement of technology, as the variety of fabrics continues to evolve, the cotton fabrics has gradually faded out of the designer’s vision, but these are the good textures in the eyes of Issey Miyake, under his skillful hands. The old material has re-emerged on the popular stage in fashion. Ikeda, the president of Japanese design, said: “The nature is the origin point of design.” Most of Japanese designers choose natural fibers such as wool, hemp, silk, cotton, etc…, but Issey Miyake fully designed and applied with natural materials such as paper, enamel, enamel, bamboo, straw, and wood.The Japanese national character has the duality of “Chrysanthemum and Knife”. Although it is the contradiction of the two poles, it is harmonious and natural. Issey Miyake’s work is like the “Chrysanthemum and Knife” in the Japanese character. It has big pieces with strong color and deep black and white gray. It has both light feathery garments and a large strong outline (Hibbert 2001).

The evening dress made of white vines, the Japanese-style smudged dyeing with straw weaving, and the mysterious warrior who performed with Japanese paper, re-engineered the fabric by themselves. These special materials all have different textures and makes the clothes show introversion of simple beauty sometimes, and avant-garde bold design image sometimes.Japanese believe that it is a process of spiritual convergence when making objects or it is a contact with all the objects in life. Only by carefully feeling the things which around you can awaken potential life connotations and spiritual realms. As Issey Miyake said: “I always close my eyes and wait for the fabric to tell me what to do.” Such an insightful commentary.

According to Hann (2013) he noted that designer did not only consider his imaginations alone when coming up with fabrics. To some extent, he employed the thoughts of the people, who largely gave him an insight on what to come up with. The sole purpose of Issey Miyake, stream wide from personal gain, but to represent the culture of Japanese people in different contexts of the world. Fashion, industry in almost all the states is largely guided by the modernism, which is not the concept propagated by Issey but rather is an instrument of connecting people with the past, using simple things that people cannot imagine, such as clothes.

The use of color also reflects the connotation of Sabi. The quiet black and simple design make the viewer’s emotions into a dry world, creating a quiet beauty.As it was noted in the previous paragraphs, the Japanese history emanates from an isolation point of view, where the separation by the sea limited the contact with other nations. The isolation compelled people to do their own things, that would sustain them will little assistance from the outside. The dark color here illustrates such a period, where social life was largely confined among the Japanese themselves (Shaw 2008). Gray also tells about burnout, pain, etc. It also represents the baptism of time, and the sturdy things become coordinated harmonious images. And the image of white is impermanence, shackles, moments, and life. It also represents shame, innocence, beauty, purity, dream, wonder, clarity, instantness, and calmness. The design of Issey Miyake uses a myriad of colors, but white predominate and is more extensive. The simplicity of the structure makes the whole garment have a rich feeling and meaning (Jefferies et al, 2016).Ideally, the garments that are designed by him gives a story, that can assist to trace the history of the Japanese people, to anyone who is interested.  They make more sense to the natives, as they hold their culture so strongly, hence an intruder might not understand the different colors if not well exposed. This serves the purpose of design-creation of a point of disconnect, so that the person can seek more explanation to understand the information being propagated.

Song Yuan brought tin paintings to Japan in Song dynasty and Japanese create traditional Japanese ink paintings based it. Its inspirational theme highlights the pursuit of black, white and gray color in Issey Miyake, and expresses deep meaning through a simple beauty and charm. There aremany designs of Issey Miyake are not just a portrayal of color, but more about the interpretation of wabi-sabi..To further complements the works done by Miyake, Ellens Sampson extrapolates similar ideology.  The designer explores the role of memory and imperfection in the fashion industry (Gardner 2006). She highlights the apparent beauty in awed objects, left unfinished or deconstructed. The design portrays a fact that is common in design, that the cloth has been worn and then worn out with time. One thing that is common among all the designers is that they illustrate that fashion industry can be made unique, based on the culture of the people. It is also a strong tool to educate and share knowledge.

Miyak is the ultimate application of Oriental soul and spirit. (Foster 2009) Miyake has been designed with no structure mode in his life, which has been rid of the traditional western mode, and creative thinking with reversed deep thinking, his works looks in a immateriality condition, but sparse with fastness. It is a kind of expression of this mysterious Oriental culture that endows the works with magical charm, and it reflect the Zhongyong aesthetics of nature and life in eastern culture. (Miyake et al.1988) It explores the new beauty of costume decoration and form from the Oriental costume aesthetics and philosophy.

Miyake has persisted in innovation and formed a unique design system. The most famous design concept is “a piece of cloth” and “a lifetime of wrinkles”. Garment is “a piece of cloth” on a moving body? This is an era of “clothes represent people”. Besides physical functions, clothes also convey people’s needs, dignity and class. Under this system, or “mode of production” (Marx 1976: 3) goods are produced to be sold as commodities to create profit for capitalists, that is, those who own the “means of production” (the raw materials and manufacturing machinery).

For Marx, then, capitalism does not primarily seek to meet the needs of the workers who make these goods. Rather, their “labour power” is sold to, controlled and exploited by these same capitalists in return for the wages necessary to subsist.’(Sullivan 2016: 28-9)However, Issey Miyake discuss the fountain of clothes, he gives a define of garment: garment is the movement in the body of a piece of cloth, this cloth created by their self, and then use the simple step to do suitable for everyone’s clothes. “A piece of fabric” with no structure model to leave sufficient space for the human body, get rid of the garment structure to the fetter of human body, and give the human body the biggest freedom, it is a admiring of body beauty. The technics performance be called higher Philosophy, the biggest innovation is that consumers can participate the design of garment, and consumers can interact with garment. Therefore, consumers are both consumers and creators of garment.

For fashion, Miyake always hope to get rid of “Japanese designer” setting, although his early work in the 1970s and 1980s had many designs that exaggerated or altered the structure of traditional kimonos. Akiko Fukai thinks that 2D element is an important feature in Issey Miyake design and it is a very abstract Aesthetics. When Japanese people make clothes, they usually start from the plane, and not the three-dimensional cutting. Although miyake is trying to design international clothes, it still starts from the plane. In its most straightforward sense, ideology is simply the study of ideas, systems of thought and systems of belief. In practice, this tends to focus on the way these ideas, thoughts and beliefs influence the way we organize and lead our lives. (Howells and Negreiros 2012: 84) Western senses with though and minds coexist. After the renaissance, the west paid more attention to exaggeration and embellishment of the human body: tight chest, waist, hips, and strong sensory stimulation. Because of the influence of western traditional culture, such as Greek culture, Roman culture and Renaissance art trend, the western aesthetic tendency is mostly generous and lively. The female is more trend to bold enthusiasm and unrestrained as their charm show. It represents“what is the world like”and “reductionism”. It’s also reflected in the dress.

The realm of lifestyle in Japan stems from the adaptation and expression of nature. They pursue the concept of life that coexists with nature. They pay attention to protect the beauty of nature. In the design of Issey Miyake, this aesthetic concept has also been confirmed, especially in the external form of garments and fabrics. According to Steele (2013) the purpose of any aesthetic work is to represent the society, in a manner that cannot be spoken by words.  This is way, it is possible to inculcate the creativity, and at the same time preserve the culture in a more appropriate manner.

The trend, that is seen in Japan is less witnessed in other places, hence making it a point of attraction for most international visitors, who are astute of art. The external structure garment represents the integration of body and nature, rather than the body is confined inside of clothing. His clothing can be worn any time. The clothes that can travel with you that feel comfortable and happy. The “pleated” fabrics he created can be bundled in any volume or a ball. They are not required to be dry-cleaned and ironed. It is still as a new. And shows a strong and powerful feeling of empty valley.

However, we have no debt to say that, for most of designer, oriental sentiment is only one of their many sources of inspiration, and only borrowed occasionally for a fresh theme. Whether the Chinese ink folding fan, or Japanese painting and decoration of geisha, they are made in the new combination of those designers, and be given them a new irrelevant meaning without original interest. They do not explore the deep meaning of those Oriental traditional arts, but pay attention to using the Oriental elements to create a visual achievement with strong visual aesthetics.

Although it is very successful in characteristic unique modeling, color and changeful, and attracted a lot of consumers. For example, in the eyes of some foreign designers, Oriental culture seems to be a simple and rigid design symbol, they make effort to make a sense of mystique immediate. This kind of stiff mystique maybe only appeal the foreigners who are curious and the people who follow the trend blind.

Although many of Wabi-Sabi’s ideology base from traditional Chinese, Japanese designers pay more attention to the use of natural materials and the pursuit simple design aesthetics. Sometimes returning to the starting point of the design, removing the extra elements in the expression of the design, focusing on the harmonious relationship with the surrounding environment and the inner spirit, may have an unexpected effect, which is for our long-term prosperity and stability. Leonard Koren’s words in “Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets &Philosophers” should be of great inspiration to designers: “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and Unencumbered but don’t sterilize”

Wabi–Sabi is a strong representation on how art, can be used to propagate cultural believes, and also educate the populace of their past.  Through fashion and design, some of the designers like Issey Miyake have conquered the industry, by amalgamating the modern technology to represent things that appear useless, and give them the face value (Kawamura 2013). The very fabrics of morality and consideration are instilled in all generations, and its done in a clam way- using the fashion. The essay shows that people have different views of issues, as object in a certain country can be of totally dissimilar meaning in another state. This creates the differentiating factor that we witness in the contemporary society.

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