I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately and one of the benefits is listening to radio 4. On my last journey, I was fascinated by a programme about Kintsugi, the ancient art of repairing broken bowls. They artist uses a special lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum to make the repair, which in turn gives a beautiful and unique appearance to the broken piece. The idea is that instead of trying to hide the break the art enhances the object, thus giving it a second life with new and original features.
The art began in the 15th century and holds much in common with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which sees beauty in the flawed and in the imperfect, along with a regret for something to be wasted combined with the acceptance of change.
It has become a highly skilled art and involves three different processes: the first is to repair a simple crack, the second is to join a break, the third is to provide the replacement of a missing piece. The item is repaired with lacquer, which is combined with a precious dust:
It struck me, that this could be a metaphor for life. There are so many things that seem broken at the moment and it might seem better to simply leave them behind. Ours has become a disposable society – if something is broken or imperfect we often just throw it away. And this pursuit of perfection extends to our very selves often leading to insecurity, particulary amongst the young, as the media continues to present impossible ideals as the norm. Age, too, is seen as something best avoided (how I wish), and instead of being encouraged to embrace and to enhance our flaws or the scars of a life well lived, we are persuaded to try to disguise them. And yes, I can see that some might argue cosmetic surgery is enhancing the way they look, potentially even the gold joining the cracks, for where is the line between dying your hair, buying makeup and the occasional shot of botox? But where do you draw the line between this and the damage that the pursuit of perfection can bring? Think of the airbrushed images that are often forced on us as a standard to achieve, the advertising that is aimed to exploit our insecurities, that targets our pursuit of the ideal.
With all the negative things that are happening in the world: a messed up Brexit, the mystery of Trump, the rise of power in North Korea, the threat of Putin, climate change, perhaps we might adopt the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi and draw some comfort from it. And perhaps we should not seek perfection, but to view the breaks and repairs as part of a history that we should be proud of. We might not despair or throw everything away, but see the beauty that lies within, to realise that by joining the cracks or shattered pieces of the old and the broken we can obtain contentment in giving a new lease of life to something by turning it into something positive and new.