This Japanese art of “golden repair" finds significance in the imperfect.
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Jun 24, 2014 | By Evan C. Williams

All too often these days, things that are broken go discarded, rather than repaired. In a culture of consumption, it’s all too easy to just buy more stuff. But things haven’t always been that way–not here, in the United States, and not in other countries around the world. And here at Huckberry, we’re strong supporters of the idea that things that are worn are things that have character. In some places, the act of repair transcends mere utility, and enters into the realm of art. Case in point: Kintsugi, the Japanese art of “golden repair.”

Kintsugi refers to the art of fixing broken pieces pottery—but we’re not talking super glue. As its name suggests, Kintsugi involves pasting pottery back together with resins made from gold, silver, and platinum. This way, the fault lines are far from covered up, but rather embraced. The finished products are striking, unique pieces of patchwork ceramic, punctuated with veins of gold and silver. 

But behind the physical manifestations of Kintsugi as the practice of repair is a greater philosophy about the material world. It’s a statement about the very state of things, of commodification, of a certain aesthetic. 

To repair pottery with gold and silver is to not simply accept, but also value the fact that it needs repair in the first place, to embrace something’s very brokenness.

The philosophical underpinnings of Kintsugi are built upon the greater Japanese worldview of wabi-sabi, a set of aesthetic values that, in general, find significance in the imperfect, the incomplete, the ephemeral. Kintsugi is also thought to be related to the concept of mushin, or “no mind”, which values non-attachment and an acceptance of changing nature of reality, a sort of “living in the moment” that facilitates a great openness to the world. To put things in perspective, it’s said that, in the midst of combat, highly trained martial artists enter a state of mushin.

The history of Kintsugi is, much like its very principles, an imperfect one. It’s estimated that it began somewhere in the late 15th century, when a Japanese shogun sent a Chinese tea bowl back to China in need of repairs. The story goes that it was returned to him crudely held together with coarse, metal staples. It is said that this may have prompted Japanese craftsman to begin developing new, aesthetically pleasing techniques of repair, which manifested in the way of Kintsugi.

When Kintsugi did catch on as a cultural practice, it did in earnest: one story tells that in the hysteria surrounding the new art form, collectors would even take to deliberately smashing valuable pieces of pottery just so they could be repaired.


Images ©: 1. Bernardaud 2. Freer Sackler; 3.The English Group; 4, 6. Kintugi;  5. Amusing Planet 6. Daily Inkling ;  7. Yunomi; 8. Virtual Artifacts