My twitter friend Durga pointed me to this article from Euan The Potter.on the Japanese aesthetic concept of “Wabi sabi”
Etymologically, “Wabi sabi” is based on the root forms of two adjectives, both of which are generally translated as “Lonely”. “Wabishii” however focuses on the object which is lonely, where as “Sabishii” focuses on the absence which makes the object lonely. The principal of “Wabi sabi” is therefore; Beauty reduced to its simplest form, and that form brought to a peak of focus by its relationship with the space in which it exists. That is to say, the presence of an object and the presence of the space interacting to strengthen each other.
The idea that space has presence is not new. Two and a half thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Parmenides proposed that it is impossible for anything which exists to conceive of anything which does not exist and that therefore even the space between objects “exists”. This remains in modern English as the concept that “I have nothing”. In Japanese however, it is grammatically impossible for “Nothing” (Nanimo) to exist (aru). “Nothing” (Nanimo) must be followed by “Is not” (nai). The idea of the presence of a space was therefore revolutionary.
To take it one step further, a tea bowl, being a vessel, is defined by the space it contains. It is not the pot which is important, but the space. In the tea bowl it is therefore possible to have the object (Wabi) and the space (Sabi) interacting within the same pot.
I think it is fair to say that, as in the art of tea, the art of hosting works with this idea to create both containers and spaces that provide the conditions for generative activity. It’s an elusive concept, the idea of creating beauty from things that aren’t really there, but that is why we call it an art, and when it comes off well, you can feel the strength of a well held container and the quality of the enclosed space.