Kintsugi: Ageing, scars and imperfection

In Japanese aesthetics, there is a concept called Kintsugi. It is a philosophy that treats breakage and repair as positively adding to the history of an object, rather than diminishing it. When an object breaks, it is repaired with a beautiful golden lacquer that accentuates and highlights the cracks.

A bowl repaired using the traditional Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) method

The object is made more beautiful, not less so, because of its imperfection.

In the West, we would have thrown out the broken object or attempted to glue it back together to disguise the cracks. Our Western ideals of aesthetics are rooted in Ancient Greece where perfection was viewed as a requisite for beauty. Perfection was found in symmetry, proportion and harmony. Perfection, however, is never found in nature. We hold ourselves to a standard of beauty that has no basis in reality.

In a society where perfection is synonymous with beauty; any scar, stretch mark or deformity diminishes our attractiveness. Growing old is something to be feared as wrinkles, liver spots and lines take over the once unblemished and youthful features. It causes us to believe ourselves to be broken in some way when we go through experiences that affect us physiologically and psychologically for we are no longer “whole”.

Kintsugi Head 1 Sculpture by Billie Bond sculpture

Kintsugi doesn’t just ask us to reappraise our notion of beauty and imperfection, it forces us to challenge what it means to be broken in the first place. For there are no normal human beings. There is no standard from which we alone deviate. There is no whole we once were, for which we are now half. The original bowl was merely a particular arrangement of clay that told us the first part of its story. The cracks now emblazoned with gold tell us the rest.

No human makes it through life unscathed. Your scars, wrinkles and experiences are the golden lacquer that make your life more beautiful. We should be embracing the imperfections we collect along the way.

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Kintsugi forms part of the broader philosophical worldview known as Wabi-Sabi which is centered around an acceptance of transience and imperfection.