Wabi Sabi, the beauty of imperfection

There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in

(Leonard Cohen)

Perfection – aiming for the best, the most beautiful and extraordinary – is highly valued in our culture. Perfectionism is widely praised, but it’s also a trait that can hamper your freedom and lead to feelings of stress and suffocation.

To take pleasure in the small and the ordinary, to accept whatever comes your way, affords greater freedom and peace of mind. Awareness of the transience and unpredictability of life teaches you to be content with what is, to eliminate unnecessary luxuries, and to live simply and mindfully.


This concept is gradually catching on in the visual arts as well. Small mistakes or imperfections add charm to your work. Don’t let your brain interfere with every brush stroke. Leave a little more to chance, respond to what happens, and cherish the “accidents”. Consider painting more like a game, and don’t take it too seriously.

You’ll see that everything gets easier when you sideline the ratio and the ego more often. Weak parts can even strengthen the rest. To finish a painting, you often have to spoil it a little. A goldsmith has no use for pure gold, but an alloy with lesser grade material increases the quality of his work.

Perfection is lifeless and boring. Imperfections, on the other hand, render your work fresh and lively.

The effects of the weather cause rust and discoloration. Through your choice of subject matter and technique, you can incorporate a feeling of transience and the passing of time into a work of art as well. Grayed colors, spatters and drips are examples for achieving this kind of integration.


In short, allow for more chance and unpredictability in your next effort. It’s fine to leave part of the work unfinished – not out of laziness, but to add to the viewing pleasure. The viewer likes to use his/her imagination to fill in the blanks. Add to this a little nonchalance by using less accurate forms and colors.

Still, it can be a challenge to incorporate imperfections in your art in a convincing manner.

Irish playwright and poet Samuel Beckett expressed this aptly:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Kees van Aalst

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