How We Are Made Of Broken Things

Japanese Golden Joinery: The piece is more beautiful for having been broken. (inspiration behind my paintings and something I have learnt over and over again in the past year.)

If something we own breaks - a porcelain bowl, for example - what might we typically do with it? I imagine most people would throw the bowl away and seek to replace it altogether or mend the broken fragments so that they're invisible. But does it have to be that way?

The Japanese art of Kintsugi - or "golden joinery" - follows a different philosophy by making the brokenness the very centre of the item's beauty and an essential part of its history. Using a lacquer or resin mixed with gold, silver or platinum in powdered form, or even copper or bronze, the pieces are literally woven back together with ornate golden lines. The resin highlights where the object was broken and, though still functional and whole, it becomes more beautiful than it was originally; lovelier than when it was "perfect".  I take the inspiration of this golden joinery and the idea that the 'piece is more beautiful for having been broken'  into my paintings, as I fragment my canvas with gold. 

Underpinning this art of golden joinery is the ancient philosophy of wabi-sabi; recognising beauty in authenticity. In cracks, crevices, subtleties, moments, imperfections and simplicity. 

This made me wonder how we might apply the same two philosophies to better understand ourselves (and each other) as women. Much like the once-shattered bowl streaked with gold, beauty exists in the ways we embrace experiences and open ourselves up to the ebb and flow of life and to the risk of being "broken". 

Failures, disappointments, broken hearts and unexpected events: none are mistakes. They are illustrations of the fullness of our existence and allow us to grow strong through our own vulnerabilities. They are our golden scars and, if we chose to wear them openly rather than conceal them, life becomes a reflection of who we are - beautiful because of our experiences, not in spite of them. 


But what of beauty through authenticity? All around us are images and notions that try to align our identities with material "things". Perfection through possession: advertising that might as well have emblazoned as its slogan "buy this and you will feel loved / valued / beautiful / wealthy". Conversely, all it leaves is emptiness. 

In the spirit of wabi-sabi, beautiful living is not a pristine, untouched living space or a well-thumbed pile of fashion magazines, or a coveted pair of unworn new shoes. It is living a life led by the heart; one of love, kindness, creativity and courage (both for oneself and towards others) existing hand in hand with our fragility and vulnerability. 

We find beauty in those seemingly unimportant moments we can easily overlook or dismiss as imperfect, but they are what make us wise, warm, empathetic and soulful. 

For me, living beautifully means sandy, grubby feet from walking along the coast-line, or exploring a beautiful city (like Paris!) carefree, totally reliant on myself. Or trusting my own choices and being un-influenced by the limiting beliefs of others' opinions. Or tired eyes from reading a wonderful book late into the night. Or painting on a large canvas with abandon and creating colour and shape without any notion of how the finished article will look. 

It is also alone-ness without loneliness. It is real tears at others' pain and the desire to fix wrongs. It is valuing myself and learning to say no. It is the ageing process and the rite of passage it brings.

For us as women, in striving for peace and self-awareness, perhaps the very brokenness we try to disguise or fight against is what will allow us to learn how to feel whole; to quite literally piece ourselves together.  We are all made of broken things. If only we could see them clearly and paint them gold. 

Katie Julia