We all grow up believing we should emphasize the inherent positives about ourselves. But what if we also emphasized the negatives, the parts we’ve had to work to fix or improve? If we did it just right, would the negatives still look so negative after all? These kinds of questions come to mind when one ponders the traditional Japanese craft of kintsugi, a means of repairing broken pottery that aims not for perfection, a return to “as good as new,” but for a kind of post-breakage reinvention that dares not to hide the cracks.
“Translated to ‘golden joinery,’ Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi, which means ‘golden repair’) is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum” says My Modern Met.
“Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.”
Kintsugi originates, so one theory has it, in the late 15th century under the culturally inclined shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, during whose reign the sensibilities of traditional Japanese art as we known them emerged. When Ashikaga sent one of his damaged Chinese tea bowls back to his motherland for repairs, it came back reassembled with ungainly metal staples. This prompted his craftsmen to find a better way: why not use that gilded lacquer to emphasize the cracks instead of hiding them? The technique was said to have won the admiration of famed (and not easily impressed) tea master Sen no Rikyū, major proponent of the imperfection-appreciating aesthetic wabi sabi.
You can hear and see these stories of kintsugi’s origins in the videos from Nerdwriter and Alain de Botton’s School of Life at the top of the post. The clip just above offers a closer look at the painstaking techniques of modern kintsugi, which not only survives but thrives today, having expanded to include other materials, repairing glassware as well as ceramics, for example, or filling the cracks with silver instead of gold. And what could underscore the current global relevance of kintsugi more than the fact that the craft has inspired not one but two TEDTalks, the first by Audrey Harris in Kyoto in 2015 and the second by Maddie Kelly in Adelaide last year. We all, it seems, want to repair our cracks; kintsugi shows the way to do it not just honestly but artfully.
h/t the nugget
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.