wabi わび
KEY WORD : architecture / tea houses ; art history / general terms
Also written 侘 or 佗. An aesthetic ideal that finds surpassing beauty and deep significance in what is humble or commonplace and appears natural or artless. This conception of beauty as simple and austere is found in poetry, and came to be the dominant philosophy in the practice of tea *chanoyu 茶湯, often called wabicha わび茶 (wabi style tea). Deriving from the verb wabu わぶ 'to languish' and the adjective wabishi わびし 'spiritual loneliness', wabi was used first in early poetry to describe the 'despair of a forlorn lover' and later came to denote the barren circumstances of the poet-recluse, it was not truly influential until it was absorbed into the ideal of sabi さび. The originally negative connotations changed with the development particularly under Zen 禅 Buddhist influences of a positive view of seclusion from the mundane in the locus of the hermit's hut. In much literature of the early medieval period we find this aesthetic of an artless beauty based on the appreciation of the imperfect and irregular aspects of nature.
Tea master Murata Jukou 村田珠光 (1423-1502) was an early exponent of wabicha who adopted literary terms such as hie 冷え (chill), and kare 枯れ (withered), to express the bleak, monochromatic appeal of the simple domestic wares he introduced into the practice tea. Students of Jukou also began holding tea gatherings in a thatched-hut *souan 草庵, tea houses *chashitsu 茶室, modeled on the hermit's grass hut. Takeno Jouou 武野紹鴎 (1502-55) is said to have emphasized ethical and metaphysical aspects of wabi, calling it free of arrogance. Jouou also cited Fujiwara Teika's 藤原定家 (1162-1241) waka 和歌 ; 見渡せば/花も紅葉も/なかりけり/浦の苫屋の/秋の夕暮れ miwataseba / hana mo momiji mo / nakarikeri / ura no tomaya no / aki no yuugure (looking out there are neither blossoms nor crimson leaves, an old hut by the bay in evening) as conveying its essence. The integration of wabi into chanoyu was further developed by Sen Rikyuu 千利休 (1522-91) in his encouragement of the use of the smallest possible space of the two-mat thatched-hut tearoom, simple, rustic tea wares such as *rakuyaki 楽焼, and the unadorned and simple forms of bamboo flower containers and other utensils. Rikyuu and his heirs sought in the tea hut the locus for a Zen-like experience of freedom from the mind. This aesthetic which finds richness in poverty, beauty in simplicity, and enlightenment in artistic discipline has been termed wabisuki わび数奇, a fusion of wabi with the word *suki 数奇 or aesthetic liking. Wabisuki reached its ultimate stage in the gokuwabi 極わび (wabi in the extreme), as practiced by tea-master such as Rikyuu's grandson Sen Soutan 千宗旦 (1578-1658).
The influence of the wabi aesthetic is clearly seen in chashitsu architecture, ceramics, and other arts directly connected with chanoyu. Wabi taste also played a role in the connoisseurship and collecting of older paintings and works of calligraphy. Moreover, wabi, as dominant aesthetic of the late 15c and 16c, exerted an influence on contemporary painting, particularly the rough and 'natural' style of soutai 草体 or 'grass style' (see *shin gyou sou 真行草) ink painting *suibokuga 水墨画.


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