Using Kintsugi to see the Beauty in Failure
The stomach-dropping sound of a bowl, teapot or vase smashing on the ground often signals the end of its use. The remaining shards are swept into a dust pan and eventually replaced. The ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, (金継ぎ) provides an alternative option by restoring those fragments and giving them new life. Here is how this Japanese practice can help us to realise that failure isn’t so frightening after all.
How kintsugi works
Translating to “golden joinery”, kintsugi is the practise of repairing broken ceramics by securing the pieces together with a precious metal. This can be liquid gold or silver, or a lacquer dusted with powdered gold. The art of kintsugi celebrates the object’s history by drawing attention to its scars, rather than concealing them away. The end result is a uniquely beautiful art piece, due to the random way that ceramic shatters. Even today, the process of repairing a piece using the kintsugi technique can take up to a month.
The history behind kintsugi
Kintsugi is thought to have been invented during the 15th century, when the eighth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate took his broken teacup to Japanese craftsmen. The techniques for repairing ceramics at the time were inelegant, so the craftsmen decided to transform the unsightly cracks. The practice of kintsugi is closely tied to a concept called wabi-sabi, which means to find beauty in broken or old things. In contrast to western culture, where such damage reduces an item’s value, kintsugi breathes new life into these broken pieces.
What we can learn from kintsugi
The first point to take away from kintsugi is that we should reshape the way we view brokenness. A chipped bowl still functions as a bowl even though it’s no longer in its original condition. The scratches, cracks and fragments that occur from everyday wear and tear become part of that item’s history. The breaks become part of the ceramic, and its scars are what make it unique and beautiful.
The same is true of ourselves. Our failures, mistakes and slip-ups are part of what makes us who we are. By accepting that a failure is just a future attempt in learning we can glue ourselves back together, so to speak, and try again. Each time we fail we learn something new and come back even stronger than before. From learning about kintsugi, we can appreciate that learning our mistakes make us even more unique and resilient than we were to begin with.