Holiday Tree, Art Foolosophy, Wabi-Sabi

We made the big annual decision yesterday, to get a cut tree for holiday decoration. Each year the decision is based on whether anticipated enjoyment value makes the effort worthwhile. If it seems a toss-up, then tradition wins out. We both like the smell of the tree and the special association with our childhood memories of peace, joy, and security. When growing up, our families each had a tree ritual. This year, the decision was a little different because our grandchildren have been moved far away from us (but still close to each other, so we will surely join them soon). Yet Debby and I are both still children at heart, so perhaps our tree agreement this year is not unexpected.

I am the designated tree hunter at this stage of life, although when the kids were growing up, the tree was chosen by them, with parental input restricted to whether their choice would actually fit in our house (and our budget). But I did try to influence them in one way. I rebel at the prospect of a ‘perfect’ tree. I have always appreciated trees a little lopsided or visually imperfect, which we take into our home, lovingly decorate, and then appreciate as perfection, an easy illusion absent other nearby rounder, fuller trees with which to compare. We succeed totally with this illusion, since it seems always the case that this year’s tree is the best one we’ve ever had.

My appreciation of imperfection influences other of life’s choices. We live in a neighborhood where most folk use professional yard maintenance services. There is nothing natural looking about most of these landscapes, square cut and putting green flat, somehow barren absen. I much prefer a more natural look, which I achieve by a less frequent and more ad-hoc maintenance routine. I appreciate the illusion of minimal human intervention. Thus, when the leaves fall, I leave them for a while on the lawn. My bushes and trees are all pruned by hand to provide locally an irregular and natural appearance, while maintaining an overall illusion of orderliness.

My quest for the harmony of imperfection extends to man-made objects also. I once frequented a store in San Francisco that sold Rosenthal crystal seconds. These were much cheaper than the ‘firsts’, and to me the little bubble in the glass or the little wobble in the shape gave them character that the ‘better’ grade didn’t possess. So I was actually getting the ‘better’ ones at half off. What a great deal. Seconds rock.

For those prone to objectifying, the most beautiful people are those with the most symmetric faces. But for people like me, character is always the archetype for beauty. Human beauty comes from inside, through the eyes and emotions and ideas.

I share my view of harmonious imperfection with the author of an article in a car mag many years ago. He explained the source of the special appeal of Ferrari coachwork; the cars were made more beautiful due to the small asymmetries introduced by the hand-assembled body panels. That works for me. But unfortunately, Ferrari is wise to the value added, so they are not sold as seconds.

I learned much later in life about the Buddhist precept that the Japanese name Wabi-Sabi, the art of imperfection. That is my natural inclination also.

This is all I know about art theory, except to say that if I like it, it must be art. Now I’m off to find a tree lot and purchase this year’s artwork.


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