Kintsugi Or The Art of Repair

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Kintsugi Or The Art of Repair

The advent of modern art in the late 19th century, opened up the art world to allow artists to experiment with new colors, materials, techniques and mediums. Now, here we are some 150 years later in an art world where anything goes, and even the broken can be considered beautiful. But kintsugi art, or the art of repairing broken ceramics, predates modern art by hundreds of years and has a fascinating history.

Kintsugi is a Japanese technique for repairing broken pottery with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. “The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history behind the object and visibly repair the new piece instead of disguising it,” writes Christopher Jobson at Collossal.com. Jobson goes on to note that the process often results in something more beautiful than the original.

Kenetha Stanton, artist, writer and coach behind A Kintsugi Life, offers some history behind the art form. “The most common history I’ve found for this practice, dates back to the 15th century when a shogun needed a broken bowl repaired. Over time, these repaired pieces became so prized that people would intentionally break items in order to have them repaired this way.” The word kintsugi means gold joinery and the process is known as kintsukuroi or “golden repair”.

The traditional kintsugi technique involves urushi lacquer and real powdered gold to make the repair. The urushi lacquer is made from a plant related to poison ivy and can cause reactions in people who are performing the repair. However, it is no longer reactive once the lacquer dries. The toxicity of the lacquer makes it expensive, not to mention the high cost of the gold powder. These factors, along with the amount of practice it takes for people to become proficient in the kintsugi art, means there are a limited number of people who still offer traditional kintsugi work. However, today, many artists use modern materials to create similar effects much more inexpensively.

But kintsugi art can go far beyond an art form and even become a life philosophy. 27-year-old  Japan-based Mueaki Shimode is the youngest professional kintsugi craftsman. “It’s very important that we understand the spiritual backgrounds or the history behind…this material,” Shimode explains. This goes hand in hand with the philosophy of wabi-sabi or finding beauty in broken or old things.

Writer Sophia Smith at Makezine.com expands on this thought process pointing out that admirers of kintsugi counter Western culture which can dictate that broken items have lost their value. This feeds consumerism while kintsugi can offer a more spiritually rewarding experience. “The importance of kintsugi is not the physical appearance, it is…the beauty and importance (that) stays in the one looking at the dish” artist Shimode goes on to say. Smith further points out that the art of kintsugi can be compared to that of repurposing and upcycling.

It may be fitting to close up by quoting this Kintsugi Art Metaphor. “One can consider how we might live a kintsugi life, finding value in the missing pieces, cracks and chips -bringing to light the scars that have come from life experiences, finding new purpose through aging and loss, seeing the beauty of ‘imperfection; and loving ourselves, family and friends, even with flaws”.

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