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Shibumi, sir?” Nicholai knew the word, but only as it applied to gar­dens or archi­tec­ture, where it con­noted an under­stated beauty. “How are you using the term, sir?”

Oh, vaguely. And incor­rectly, I sus­pect. A blun­der­ing attempt to describe an inef­fa­ble qual­ity. As you know, shibumi has to do with great refine­ment under­ly­ing com­mon­place appear­ances. It is a state­ment so cor­rect that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is under­stand­ing, rather than knowl­edge. Elo­quent silence. In demeanor, it is mod­esty with­out pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is ele­gant sim­plic­ity, artic­u­late brevity. In phi­los­o­phy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spir­i­tual tran­quil­ity that is not pas­sive; it is being with­out the angst of becom­ing. And in the per­son­al­ity of a man, it is … how does one say it? Author­ity with­out dom­i­na­tion? Some­thing like that.”

Nicholai’s imag­i­na­tion was gal­va­nized by the con­cept of shibumi. No other ideal had ever touched him so. “How does one achieve this shibumi, sir?”

One does not achieve it, one … dis­cov­ers it. And only a few men of infi­nite refine­ment ever do that. Men like my friend Otake-san.”

Mean­ing that one must learn a great deal to arrive at shibumi?”

Mean­ing, rather, that one must pass through knowl­edge and arrive at simplicity.”

—From the novel Shibumi, by Tre­van­ian (1979).

The con­cept, of course, has great applic­a­blilty to visual art.

Posted in art technique.

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  1. eugenia says

    One of my favorite authors and books.

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