Kintsugi (金継ぎ?) (Japanese: golden joinery) or Kintsukuroi (金繕い?) (Japanese: golden repair) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
Lacquerware is a longstanding tradition in Japan, at some point it may have been combined with maki-e as a replacement for other ceramic repair techniques. One theory is kintsugi may have originated when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the late 15th century. When it was returned, repaired with ugly metal staples, it may have prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair. Collectors became so enamored with the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi. Kintsugi became closely associated with ceramic vessels used for chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony). While the process is associated with Japanese craftsmen the technique was applied to ceramic pieces of other origins including China, Vietnam, and Korea.
As a philosophy kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese æsthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.
|“||Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identiﬁcation with, [things] outside oneself.||”|
—Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics
Types of kintsugi joinery
There are a few major styles or types of Kintsugi:
- Crack (ひび?), the use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to attach broken pieces with minimal overlap or fill-in from missing pieces
- Piece Method (欠けの金継ぎ例?), where a replacement ceramic fragment is not available and the entirety of the addition is gold or gold/lacquer compound
- Joint Call (呼び継ぎ?), where a similarly shaped but non-matching fragment is used to replace a missing piece from the original vessel creating a patchwork effect.
Staple repair is a similar technique used to repair broken ceramic pieces, where small holes are drilled on either side of a crack and metal staples are bent to hold the pieces together. Staple repair was used in China, England, and Russia as a repair technique for particularly valuable pieces.
Influence on modern art
Kintsugi as a general concept of highlighting or emphasizing imperfections, visualizing mends and seams as additive or an area to celebrate or focus on rather than as absence or missing pieces, the artist project dispatchwork by Jan Vormann can be seen as a modern take on kintsugi. Other modern artists experiment with the ancient technique as a means of analyzing the idea of loss, synthesis, and improvement through destruction and repair or rebirth.
While originally ignored as a separate art form, kintsugi and related repair methods have been featured at exhibition at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The concept of Kintsugi inspired Tim Baker of the Canadian band Hey Rosetta! in the making of their 2014 album, Second Sight. The lead single, "Kintsukuroi," takes its name directly from the artform and the cover art of the record features a bowl repaired in the kintsugi method. Canadian folk band The Rural Alberta Advantage also used kintsugi as inspiration for the art for their tellingly-named 2014 record, Mended with Gold. Death Cab for Cutie also named their 2015 release Kintsugi, in part because the album was their first without founding member Chris Walla, who departed the band in 2014 after 17 years.
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- Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics — Christy, James; Holland, Henry; Bartlett, Charly Iten (2008). Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics. Cornell University, Herbert Johnson Museum of Art. ASIN B009F3YENM.
- Kintsugi: The Meaning of Mending by Adam Fulford (Video on Vimeo)