Kintsukuroi is the Japanese art of repaired pottery, but it’s something more than that. An important something.
These days, would you even consider a broken ceramic bowl worth repairing, let alone consider it more beautiful for having been broken? Probably not. No, of course not.
But slow down a minute. Consider the bowl, made by hand with maleable clay and fired to a couple thousand degrees, forever altering its molecular structure. The bowl’s creator strived to create perfection.
A handmade object, like a bowl or cup, is revered for the care it took to make it, its beauty, and its purpose. But broken, the object is demoted and loses its honor, so to speak. Repaired, however, can raise the object to a whole new level of appreciation. Not a common idea in western culture.
Some people, more scholarly and patient than I, attribute the origin of the repaired-ceramics art form to a story from the mid-1500s. The story goes like this. A great military leader (with a supposedly hot temper) was given a beautiful bowl for an important tea ceremony. Someone dropped the bowl, which broke into five pieces (a more complete essay can be found in Flickwerk, The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics, available here). One of the guests spoke up with an improvised poem cleverly linking the name of the giver of the bowl, the style of the bowl, and the five broken pieces, making them all laugh and avoiding the wrath of the hot-headed leader. This specific bowl has since become quite famous, and is considered now an “Important Cultural Property.”
This essay goes on to say that instead of the break “…diminishing [the bowl’s] appeal, a new sense of its vitality and resilience raised appreciation to even greater heights.” The bowl has become more beautiful for having been broken. The true life of the bowl “…began the moment it was dropped…”
“So it is not simply any mended object that increases in its appreciation but…the gap between the vanity of pristine appearance and the fractured manifestation of mortal fate which deepens its appeal.”
In other words, the proof of of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.