Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kintsugi

Recently, I've been thinking about the Japanese art of kintsugi or "gold joinery" (also called kintsukuroi).  Traditionally applied to ceramics, kintsugi operates on the assumption that broken isn't bad, it's just... part of life.

So, in the practice of kintsugi, a broken plate or bowl is not discarded.  Instead, it's repaired, openly and apparently, on the assumption that the process of mending the broken item is part of the item's "life" or history.

This isn't your mother's Gorilla Glue, either.  Kintsugi typically uses a lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum to create obvious--and, implicitly, beautiful--seams that mark the damage done to the original object. 


I think what fascinates me about this concept is how foreign it is to an American consumer culture that focuses on having the "newest" of anything and everything and how quickly we resort to discarding things that may not work as well as we'd like them to.

We tend to consider things in terms of polarities: health vs. sickness, whole vs. broken, new (or young) vs. old, and along the way, we (implicitly or explicitly) privilege one half of the binary, granting it the predominant value and devaluing its opposite.

But maybe life isn't made to be conceived of in terms of clear oppositions.  Kintsugi suggests, in an indirect way, an appreciation for the nuances of wear and tear--that they can come to be part of the overall design and beauty of an object.

I wonder how different our attitude toward the world around us--and the people in it--would be if, when it came to repairing the problems or damage caused by ourselves or others, we poured what is most precious to us into the seams and divisions that mark our ruptures and disconnections.

Instead of thinking about restoring people to a state of pristine health and youth and happiness (something that never really exists outside of Hollywood and Big Pharm ad campaigns anyway), we look for the opportunities and possibilities for beauty in the midst of damage.

The art of kintsugi suggests that the beauty of art lies in the life that it lives in a world full of unpredictability and accidents.   It is a reminder that the beauty of art can--and should be--a reflection of the beauty of life.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."