- Unobtrusive and unostentatious, intrinsically good (can even be rich), patterns not regularly placed, often unfinished, creating interesting spaces. Simple, with an economy of line and effort. Nothing complicated could be called “Shibui”. Must have depths worth studying, after first noticed, must have design character, and be fitting exploitation of the nature of the material and the method. Should not be shiny or new looking, though small touches of sparkle can be used. Even if new, object should have dull patina that comes with loving care. If applied to color scheme, the large areas of color should be dark, rich and unobtrusive, but there should be a small sharp accent color somewhere to give astringency and interest. The essence of controlled understatement, aimed to produce tranquility. A feeling of modesty and humility is necessary in striving for “shibui”.
“Shibui” is the essence of Japanese culture and is considered the ultimate in taste, for all but the very young. There are two strains of it: the folk craft school of thought and the aristocratic school of thought. In actuality, one can encompass both.
- “House Beautiful” magazine, August 1960, article entitled “The Shibui Syndrome”.
“Like all transcendent qualities, the word Shibumi eludes definition. To the Japanese, those externals which soothe and satisfy the spirit are Shibumi. These things are instinctive, not shaped by reason and not easily put into words: but Shibumi suggests art appreciation, culture, ultra-refinement, quiet taste, and a great consideration for others. Nothing “too much” is in it, and the word is in itself a protest against ostentation. It confirms the traditional appreciation of serenity, introspection, modesty, formality, nobility, generosity, reserve and conservatism. As the antithesis of bizarre it is opposed to everything that is garish, loud, noisy or commercial hype.
No single word in the English language exactly describes Shibumi as the Japanese understand it. The artistic and sensitive foreigner would describe Shibumi as the acme of elegance and refinement, the result of years of training and the use of restraint in the highest sense. Japanese speak of Shibui in relation to customs, houses, rooms, decorations and art, persons, dress as well as the tone of voice. It marks the character of the proper order of things.
In short, all parts must be related to the whole, and the whole must be seemly to the place and circumstance. I have coined a word “appropriateness” (I know there is no such word in English, but it seems appropriate) describing a quality that is much lacking in our times and most people.
Shibumi is found in all the traditional and quality arts of Japan; that esoteric quality introduced into art by Zen Buddhism. It is the art that conceals art. ” – W.G. von Krenner
“The concept of shibusa includes a range of related meanings that cannot be embodied in any other term, English or Japanese; the concept is unique. When attempts at translation were made, we received contradictory impressions: one person might say that shibusa means refined and subdued, while another might translate the term as rough or astringent. Eventually, however, after enough examples of shibusa had been gathered, we began to formulate an intuitive grasp of this standard of taste, even though we could not precisely define it. — David and Michiko Young
Shibui (渋い?) (adjective), or shibumi (渋み?) (noun), is a Japanese word which refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Like other Japanese aesthetic terms, such as iki and wabi-sabi, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion.
Originating in the Muromachi period (1333-1568) as shibushi, the term originally referred to a sour or astringent taste, such as that of an unripe persimmon. Shibui maintains that literal meaning still, and remains the antonym of amai (甘い?), meaning ‘sweet’.
However, by the beginnings of the Edo period (1603-1867), the term had gradually begun to be used to refer to a pleasing aesthetic. The people of Edo expressed their tastes in using this term to refer to anything from song to fashion to craftsmanship that was beautiful by being understated, or by being precisely what it was meant to be and not elaborated upon. Essentially, the aesthetic ideal of shibumi seeks out events, performances, people or objects that are beautiful in a direct and simple way, without being flashy.
“A certain love of roughness is involved, behind which lurks a hidden beauty, to which we refer in our peculiar adjectives shibui, wabi and sabi. .. It is this beauty with inner implications that is referred to as shibui. It is not a beauty displayed before the viewer by its creator .. a piece that will lead the viewer to draw beauty out of it for themselves. The world may abound with different aspects of beauty. Each person, according to his disposition and environment, will feel a special affinity to one or another aspect. But when their taste grows more refined, they will necessarily arrive at the beauty that is shibui.” — “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty”, Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach
“Throughout your stay in Japan you must have heard the word shibui uttered frequently. It is impossible to translate this word accurately into English. ‘Austere’, ‘subdued’, ‘restrained’, ‘sombre’ – these words come nearest to acceptable substitutes. Etymologically, shibui means ‘astringent’, and is used to describe profound, unassuming and quiet feeling. … this simple adjective is the final criterion for the highest form of beauty.” — “Folk Crafts of Japan”, Soetsu Yanagi
“A shibui room brings out deep conversation; a shibui woman draws out a thoughtful man; a shibui man listens to a thoughtful woman; a shibui child is a rare child indeed. Shibui is marked by three main characteristics: wabi, sabi, and yugen.” — Richard R. Powell, ” Wabi Sabi for Writers”
Her life is a fine piece of Japanese pottery
in the Shibui style,
so crafted that to see the cup’s exterior
is to be privy only to its dull sienna clay
and to the flavored warmth with which you choose to fill it.
But drained of all your preconceptions
you may discover the bowl inside –
a high-glazed hyacinth blue
that rushes to your heart
and there remains, like an indelible message
you remember from a fortune told in tea leaves once,
like a wet jasmine flower
that you can never rinse away.
– Robin Morgan
Shibui allows viewer participation in the artist’s art. It’s particularly valuable in an age of highly finished and sophisticated machine-manufactured products. Shibui comes naturally, shows the hand of the maker, and triumphs gesture and the vagaries of process. While there are hundreds of ways to bring shibui into your life, if you think you might include the idea in your painting, here are seven:
Use the whole brush–right down to the ferrule.
Have more than one color on the brush at one time.
Hold the brush well up on the handle.
Work freshly and let intuition be your guide.
Feel the energy and direction of your subject.
Be not uptight, but relaxed.
Quit when you’ve connected and while the going is good.
– Robert Genn