The Philosophy of Wabi Sabi Aesthetics

The basic notion of wabi-sabi in Japanese aesthetics:

Over time, the more you use something, the more “worn in” it becomes, and the more beautiful it becomes!

The tricky thing:

Most technological things become WORSE as time goes on. Generally speaking, only the organic actually “improves” over time.

For example:

  1. When you use leather products, it ages beautifully (patina over time). The oil from your body makes the leather softer, more fashionable, and more moulded to your body.
  2. RAW denim jeans: Similarly creates beautiful ‘wear marks’ according to your body.
  3. Wrinkles: The older we humans age, the more beautiful our faces become, with wrinkles, creases, and wear marks. Wrinkled faces as more interesting and beautiful than smooth baby faces (why I prefer to photograph older people in street photography).
  4. The brassing of a black paint Leica. The more you use it, the Leica rangefinder will show the golden brass beneath the surface.
  5. Classic cars tend to become more fashionable over time (in terms of design aesthetics), but they get worse because the engines become more difficult to maintain, they rust, corrode, etc.
  6. Wood: To a certain extent, the more you use wood, the more beautiful it gets. Same goes with other materials like stone, which become more beautiful as rain and the elements wash over it.

Things that don’t get better over time

  1. Smartphones: At best a smartphone can be robust to time (iPhone’s tend to have longer longevity than Android phones). However with enough time (let’s say a decade), even the most high-tech iPhone will slow to a halt.
  2. Clothing with black dye: Eventually turns purple (happens to all my black shirts, pants, and backpacks).
  3. Digital cameras: Eventually you gotta upgrade. At best, a digital camera is robust to time (digital Leica M cameras seem to hold their value quite well, including the original Leica M9 and Leica M9 Monochrom). My poor RICOH GR cameras keep dying after 2-3 years of intense use (RIP to my original RICOH GR, Ricoh GR II). Now I am only my RICOH GR III — let us see how long that will last).

Organic vs Inorganic

Let us not get too tied down with technological things (inorganic things). If you desire “durability” with your goods, invest in organic goods (denim, leather, cotton, merino wool, stone, wood, bamboo). Inorganic goods tend to worsen over time (polyester, plastic, gadgets).

Websites vs Social Media

My website/blog ( and have been robust to the test of time. I started it in 2009, and over a decade+, it still is going strong!

However the downside of social media– it all eventually dies. Consider ICQ, Aol Instant Messenger, Xanga, Livejournal, MySpace, Digg, Flickr). Eventually all the other social media platforms will die as well.


Invest in yourself and your own platform (open source website); not some third-party “free” provider.

Aesthetics in photography

Generally speaking, film photography (aesthetics) is more robust to time than modern digital aesthetics (consider horrendous HDR, selective color, and over-processing of RAW files). In the long term, film photographs will always look beautiful, whereas digital photos might or might not look good.

Also generally, monochrome has better longevity than color. Also with monochrome black and white photos — more consistency than color film (which is incredibly inconsistent between the original color film, Kodachrome slide film, and 35mm film).

What should we do as consumers?

Some ideas:

  1. Perhaps best for clothing to just buy used clothing (flea markets, second-hand stores).
  2. If you’re going to buy new clothing, buy a few really expensive high-end stuff that you can imagine wearing everyday for 10 years.
  3. When you buy new technology, try to buy the really high-end top of the line stuff (as much as you can afford), and try to squeeze 5-7 years out of your technology.
  4. Realize that sooner or later, we will bore and tire of everything — of our cameras, of our clothes, of our homes, of our furniture, our gadgets, electronics, cars, etc. Strive to think about DECADES.
  5. When in doubt, don’t buy it.

In praise of muscles

Of course we will eventually die. And generally speaking, the older we get, the weaker we get. But — perhaps this don’t happen until our 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond.

For example at age 31 I am stronger than I was at 21. At age 31, I hit a 445 pound deadlift and a ~350 pound squat. At age 21, I could barely deadlift 225 and squat 135. Perhaps by the time I’m in my 40s and 50s I will not be able to increase my one-rep max lifts much, but muscles are great — they tend to get better over time (the more you train them, exert them, push them and the more you eat meat).

Conclusion: Aim for decades

Moving forward, I wish to think about 10 years, 20 years, and 30 years out. Even further– 300 years from now.

As artists, if we can stay relevant even 100 years from now we have succeeded (Horace’s rule).

Trust the classics; wabi-sabi.



Less is better:


Philosophy >