For every awesome thing that modern technology has given us (the emoji, on-demand reality TV, literal sliced bread), it seems to provide an equal and opposite pitfall. In the case of our current culture’s propensity for sharing, technology has allowed us to learn more about our friends, meet new people faster, and share personal glimpses into our everyday lives. On the opposite side of that same coin is a paradoxical lack of IRL connection and a pressure to share only the most picture-perfect, hyper-curated aspects of our lives (guilty!). If you’ve found that Modernity’s pressure for perfection has you down, you’ve got a friend in Julie Pointer Adams. A photographer, an avid entertainer, and the former co-director of Kinfolk magazine’s dinner series, Julie is also the author of the newly-published Wabi-Sabi Welcome. As much a manifesto for living as it is a guide to modern entertaining, the book finds Julie exploring the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, a term that conveys the notion of perfect imperfection: cracked pottery, wrinkled linen, the pair of jeans that only gets better with age.
“I’ve found that the easier it is to connect through devices,” Julie notes in the book’s introduction, “the less and less aware we are of the importance of being connected to the people right around us, and the more intimidated we are by how polished everyone else’s lives look.” Wabi-Sabi Welcome is the antidote to all of this. Throughout, Julie takes a closer look at what Wabi-Sabi can mean through the lens of different people and different cultures. In addition to sharing experiences from her home state of California, Julie finds Wabi Sabi in Denmark, France, Italy, and Wabi-Sabi’s homeland, Japan. Julie was kind enough to tell us a little bit more about her book and her experience making it below.
We’re Giving Away 5 Signed Copies of Wabi-Sabi Welcome!
Enter to win a signed copy of Wabi-Sabi Welcome, along with 5 west elm products selected by Julie Pointer Adams: 1 FEED Kitchen Apron, 1 White Enamel Vase, a set of Belgian Linen Placemats, 1 bar of Swedish Dream Sea Salt Soap.
TO ENTER: In the comments section below, share your name, email, and a favorite Wabi-Sabi (perfectly imperfect) moment from your own life. 1 entry per person. Last day for entry Friday, June 30, 2017. Full terms of service here.
Simplicity and the idea of living-with-less are hot topics right now. What makes the concept of Wabi-Sabi unique from its more trend-bound peers?
Wabi-sabi is distinct from other, perhaps more trendy forms of minimalism, because I find it to be both more forgiving and more generous in its everyday application into our lives. Adopting a wabi-sabi way of life isn’t about stripping your life of all you own, or curating your home into a simplified box full of designer furniture and shiny empty surfaces—it’s about re-examining what you already have and learning to appreciate the beauty of what’s right in front of you. This can be true whether you have a Matisse hanging on the wall, or your child’s finger painting. Of course, there are some loose qualifications as to what might aesthetically be considered wabi-sabi, but as a worldview, I believe it’s really very open and accepting. Coming to embrace a “perfectly-imperfect” sense of beauty helps us cherish what we’ve been given as a gift, and to relish in it and share it with others—rather than always have the sense that we need more or better things.
Our world is so incredibly visual, fast-paced, and digitized these days, that wabi-sabi is a welcome antidote to the chaos—this quieter, more attentive mindset helps us shrug off some of the more lasting effects of this frenzy. To start with, we see hundreds—if not thousands—of images of glossy “perfection” every day, implicitly telling us what we need more of, how we should look, and what we should strive for. Practicing wabi-sabi takes a different approach, encouraging us to live in-tune with nature and to be delighted by unexpected, simple moments of beauty. Choosing a way of life that not only accepts but actually embraces imperfection (i.e. the mundane, messiness of life) is very liberating and freeing. When you apply this to entertaining and having people in your home, it feels like a big sigh of relief, which I think everyone could use a bit more of.
Wabi-Sabi seems implicitly unstructured and uncurated (“there are no rules,” so to speak). As such, it seems like it might be a difficult concept to teach. How do you recommend people incorporate a Wabi-Sabi mindset into their lives?
As you’ve said, because wabi-sabi has so many facets and nuances to it, it is a very difficult concept to pin down and describe in one simple way. However, throughout the book I try to latch onto really specific, practical things that people can do in order to introduce wabi-sabi into their everyday lives. For instance, the California chapter is all about entertaining in intimate spaces—essentially encouraging readers to ditch formal dining and fancy-feeling homes in favor of something much more candid, cozy, and homey. I talk about things like personalizing your home with things very particular to you and putting them on display for others to see, using nature to decorate, and making meals you can eat with your hands—all things that help us leave perfection behind and instantly feel more comfortable with those around us.
You explore the concept of Wabi-Sabi in five different countries in your book and photographed in each of them. Any stand-out memories from your travels?
One of the most gratifying experiences for me was spending time in Japan and being witness to the amazing warmth, humility, and generosity of everyone we encountered there. Knowing that the wabi-sabi concept stems from there, it was especially amazing to see how this concept is engrained into their everyday lives and informs so much of what they do and have—everything from the way they greeted us, to the dishware they use, to the simple and meaningful décor around their homes. One evening in Kyoto, we arrived at the home of a friend of a friend, only to find she was preparing a large feast with probably ten to twelve dishes in the works. It was one of the most beautiful, delicious meals I have ever eaten, shared with a mishmash of mostly strangers crowded around three low tables as we were all sitting on the floor. I didn’t take any photos of this particular meal, so it’s not in the book, but that’s what I loved about it: the grandeur of the meal wasn’t at all for show, it was simply to nourish and sustain and comfort each of us—which is exactly what it did. I still think about that meal regularly.
Your book is in many ways just as much a photo essay as it is an exploration of an idea. Tell us about your interest in photography. What makes a beautiful photo?
I’ve been shooting with film since I was 15, although this was the first time I’ve ever felt bold enough to take photos in a professional way. My photography style has always been simply about documenting life as it is, rather than setting up scenes or styling my subjects to look a certain way. The same was true for the book—all of the moments and people captured in the book were photographed just as they were. Although I’ve done a lot of styling in the past, I wanted everything about these images to feel real, true-to-life, and uncontrived, and so I refrained from interfering in any stylistic way. While styled scenes can also be wonderfully compelling and interesting, I felt the most fitting and beautiful imagery for the book would be photos that captured scenes of real life exactly as it was unfolding.
Photography excerpted from Wabi-Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Julie Pointer Adams and Ryan J. Adams.