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  • Melissa Knowles

Shibui: Elegant Simplicity

Shibui, a Japanese aesthetic concept, encompasses simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty that may go unnoticed at first glance. Originally, shibui was associated with an astringent taste, but over time, it evolved into a positive attribute. This transformation occurred during the end of the Edo period when restrictions on clothing led to a focus on understated elegance in garments.

Soetsu Yanagi, a key figure in the mingei movement, described shibui as the epitome of beauty, combining simplicity with intricate details. Shibui objects may appear plain at first but reveal hidden complexities upon closer inspection. This philosophy encourages a modest and understated approach, emphasizing spontaneity, health, and the importance of slowing down to appreciate the beauty in simplicity.

Soetsu Yanagi, founder of the mingei movement, used the term shibui to describe a refined taste, the ultimate level of beauty, the purest form that exists. In his book The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty, he declares: ‘The world is overflowing with different aspects of beauty. The beautiful, the powerful, the joyful, the intelligent, all are part of beauty. Every person, according to their disposition and environment, will feel a particular affinity to one aspect or another. But when their taste becomes more refined, it inevitably arrives at a form of beauty that is shibui. Many terms serve to describe the secret of beauty, but this one is the final word.’

Shibui can be used to describe a person, and also an artistic performance or an object, and it's elements - simplicity, implicity, modesty, naturalness, everydayness, imperfection, and silence - guide individuals to cultivate a depth of feeling and understanding of beauty by embracing the subtle nuances in life.

Shibui inspires me to embrace a modest and understated approach, emphasizing spontaneity and well-being, which influences not only how I create my work but also how I share it with others. As an educator, I often feel overwhelmed mentally, but shibui reminds me to slow down and take the time to observe, learn, and appreciate moments of silence. Instead of seeking out loud and flashy encounters, I seek out everydayness and spontaneity that allows for unforced growth and a depth of feeling to surface and be made visible.

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