At dinner at photographer Ellen Silverman‘s house, I noticed a beautiful on-the-verge-of-flowering Amaryllis plant on her kitchen island…and next to it, her clever, fast save of a cluster of buds that had broken off.
In order to submerge just the bud’s broken stem in water, she rigged a water glass with rubber bands to make a support. Perhaps it was the cross-hatch pattern, but they didn’t seem like rubber bands at all, but rather, like some Japanese raffia-adorned bud vase. It was as beautiful as the plant itself and embodied the elusive quality of wabi-sabi.
Wabi-Sabi is almost impossible to describe. Writers generally circle it, or point to it. Leonard Koren’s classic Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (a staple in my bathroom library) comes close:
The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably best described as the state of grace arrived by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize. (Things wabi-sabi are emotionally warm, never cold.) Usually this implies a limited palette of materials…But it doesn’t mean removing the invisible connective tissue that somehow binds the elements into a meaningful whole.
I find a “heartfelt intelligence/state of grace” to be at work in all sorts of creative endeavors, through a kind of listening that is not entirely conscious. Onitsura’s haiku* perfectly describes it:
I follow thee:
A noiseless flower
In my inmost ears.
Ellen definitely brought about a very special poetry.
*haiku from the ever-illuminating Zen Art for Meditation.