I have just come across a very exciting Japanese basketmaker and in doing so, have discovered an inspiring Japanese word. I have always been enamoured of the term ‘wabi-sabi’ referring to the beauty of imperfection found in nature but now it has a rival for my affections.
Yugen is an important descriptor in japanese aethetics for which we in the West have no equivalent and is “strictly speaking” “untranslatable”. The two parts of the word break down to mean ‘cloudy’ ‘impenatrability’. Deliciously mysterious but familiar.
According to Wikipedia, you can try to understand it as:
“a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”
Zeami Motokiyo used the following examples to help illuminate us:
“To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo.”
Alan Watts also alluded to it in The Tao Of Philosophy:
However, when the Chinese Taoists say nature is purposeless this is a compliment. It is much like the idea of the Japanese word yugen. They describe yugen as watching wild geese fly and being hidden in the clouds; as watching a ship vanish behind the distant island; as wandering on and on in a great forest with no thought of return. Haven’t you done this? Haven’t you gone on a walk with no particular purpose in mind? You carry a stick with you and you occasionally hit at old stumps and wander along and sometimes twiddle your thumbs. It is at that moment that you become a perfectly rational human being; you have learned purposelessness.”
Oh lord – I wish I was Japanese. I should be doing more aimless wandering.
At 6am in the morning, driving along a flat country road on my own a long time ago, I cried spontaniously at the beauty of a mailbox and a song on the radio. It was such a strong feeling. Was that yugen? I’ve certainly never forgotten nor been able to explain it.
Why don’t we give voice to those hidden feelings we experience when nature makes us transcend the every day? Or art for that matter?
I am excited to share pictures of this amazing recent weaving in Windmill Palm by Chizu Sekiguchi. Oozy forms – blobby organic, ordered, delicate and at the same time strong.
Windmill Palm Coral,
34 x 22 x 22 cm
30 x 18 x 45 cm
Net Shell, 2012
27 x 19 x 24 cm
So, I am off to the studio now but I’m going to walk very slowly and maybe carry a stick…
Images: Cavin-Morris Gallery