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Grief and Kintsugi – Adding to The Beauty of What Was

The Japanese art form called Kintsugi 金継ぎ “golden joinery” is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer that is dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The artform, as a philosophy treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

It’s truly beautiful.

Tea bowl, Korea, Joseon dynasty, 16th century AD, Mishima-hakeme type, buncheong ware, stoneware with white engobe and translucent, greenish-gray glaze, gold lacquer - Ethnological Museum, Berlin - DSC02061

Kinsugi is a centuries-old art form which relies on a few guiding principles:

  • Breaks and cracks should be emphasised rather than hidden or disguised.
  • The repaired piece should be even more beautiful than the original.
  • The repaired piece should have a second lease of life.
  • The break or repair should be treated as part of the history of the object.
  • Flaws and imperfections are something to be embraced.

All of this is held in perfect harmony with, and not contrary to the fact that the object was indeed beautiful in its first iteration, before it smashed.

Living with grief has many similarities.

Before Claire died I was very happy with my life, I wouldn’t want anything to change, life was beautiful with her.

And then this awful thing happened, my life was smashed apart, broken into a 1000 pieces.

I could stare at the all of those pieces and wish for that life to be reinstated. Somehow, magically those pieces should reform themselves, with no cracks, into the beautiful life it was before.

Except that will never happen.

So instead, I choose to treat the flaws and imperfections that were caused as something to be embraced. Those cracks are now part of my history, and as such add beauty.

Some people like the look of Kintsugi, some people might prefer the look of the item before. Neither are right. Neither are wrong.

Regardless of whether you like Kintsugi or not, there’s no going back. There’s no way to put things back the way they were before, so I’m moving forwards, celebrating the past and adding to it rather than taking away.

I don’t think this is a viewpoint we can clearly see immediately in the aftermath of the death of someone close to us.

It’s all too raw, too painful and we want nothing more than to have everything put back the way it was before.

I do however think there comes a point of acceptance. Acceptance of both the pain and the fact of the death.

The question then becomes, what do we do with that acceptance. Do we sit back and idly allow life to pass us by, everyday looking at the smashed pieces on the floor and wondering why we can’t put things back the way they were. Or, do we treasure all of those broken pieces and painstakingly reassemble what we can, with love, with care and by actually adding to the beauty of what was there before?