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Turning brokenness into art

By Cathryn Wellner / July 6, 2015
Tea bowl fixed in the Kintsugi method; photo via Wikimedia Commons

Tea bowl fixed in the Kintsugi method; photo via Wikimedia Commons

In Japan a small but dedicated cadre of skilled craftsman take the shards of broken pottery, paint their edges with lacquer, trace the break lines with gold, and make them whole again. Rather than trying to hide the break lines, they celebrate them. A piece once shattered becomes a work of art.

Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a spiritual practice. The item that has been repaired is a visible reminder of the healing that brought it back to wholeness. In a short documentary from Greatcoat Films, Muneaki Shimode, one of its youngest practitioners, says he believes the renewed interest in this centuries-old art is because “people are realizing that chasing after money and new stuff and new technology will not make us rich in spiritual ways.”

In an article for WeDoJapan.com, Tony McNicol stresses that kintsugi does not exist on its own. Kintsugi artisans are experts in other areas. Muneaki Shimode, for example, is a maki-e lacquer craftsman. Aside from the practitioners themselves, each piece is an object created for another purpose. The kintsugi artisan takes the cracked, ephemeral object and turns it into something enduring, all the more beautiful for having first been broken.

Stories about the origin of kintsugi tell of a a fifteenth-century shogun who sent away a fine piece of broken porcelain for repair. He was dismayed when it returned marred with ugly staples. Kintsugi was born out of his desire to return his beloved piece to a state of wholeness and beauty.

We are all broken. Life cracks us with failures, deaths, betrayals, and disappointments. Kintsugi is a reminder that brokenness is part of what makes us beautiful. As our wounded places heal, the scars they leave behind enable us to be more compassionate and loving.


Kintsugi: The Art of Broken Pieces from Greatcoat Films on Vimeo.


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