In Praise of the Shadows, an Essay on Beauty - Minimal Studio

In Praise of the Shadows, an Essay on Beauty

“In the West, the most powerful ally of beauty was always light; in traditional Japanese aesthetics, the essential thing is to capture the enigma of the shadow ”. Thus begins Junichiro Tanizaki's essay which affirms that there is no beauty separate from the effect of shadows. This relevant Japanese writer from the last century, considered by many the cornerstone of the contemporary Japanese novel, speaks to us of light, from the ac-ceptance of the imperfect. But how can the imperfect be perfect?
As synonyms for this adjective, our language accepts the meanings defective, deteriorated, deficient, lacking, incomplete and even bad. And the identification of light with a type of transcendent beauty, in the Western world, comes from antiquity, with the birth of the so-called «aesthetics of light». This symbol of divinity, which probably nested in the minds of many artists, resulted in many of the Gothic cathedrals that we know today, bright thanks to large windows that filled the interior space with color. A concept without limits towards the realization of an absolute and infinite beauty.

It is not surprising, by much, that artists and builders closely related light to divine beauty throughout history, in line with the metaphysics of light and other aesthetic philosophies of the Middle Ages. These concepts, so deeply ingrained in our societies, today stumble upon the basic idea of Oriental culture that Junichiro speaks of, in which, instead of hiding de-fects, he seeks to accentuate them. According to this idea, imperfections are accentuated and celebrated as proof of the fragility of things, of their resilience and ability to survive, recover and even become stronger.

The beauty, simplicity and elegance of shadows

“Beauty is not a substance in itself, but a game of light and darkness produced by the jux-taposition of the different substances that form from the subtle game of the shadow’s mo-dulations.”
– Junichiro Tanizaki –
Nothing lasts, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect. A Zen life concept that mobilizes the West towards the search for a happier existence. Along this path, the writer finds frus-tration with brightness when he talks about dividing rooms traditionally using shòjis or translucent paper panels in Japan, for example. He considers the passage of light impracti-cal and offering a lack of security. He assures to have nothing against the adoption of the comforts that current societies provide in terms of lighting, but despite this, he wonders why we do not give more importance to our customs and our tastes to adapt more to them.

"A Beautiful Light", between psychology and neurophysiology 

In her research project, "A Beautiful Light”, Martina Frattura (BPA) explores the psycholog-ical relationship between beauty and light. This artist's study of lighting aims to demon-strate the effect of light on mood, vitality, the perception of happiness or positivity. For physicists, light is something to measure precisely, biologists will say that it is something that is essential for life and psychologists will say that it is a great influence on mood and health. The truth is that light undoubtedly plays a fundamental role in architecture, where the elimination of walls, and in general, minimalist decoration nowadays seeks the tri-umph of natural light, perhaps due to our desire to get closer to what that we know by simplicity.

Eliminating the enormous weight of the material concerns of life, implies for many to let in the light. That is why this essay delicately and wisely suggests, the power of the shadow of which we have forgotten in the West, giving way to our overexposure. If we accept that the world is made up of shadows and darkness, as well as light and clarity, we will discover that, as Junichiro says,“…beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”

Wabi-sabi or the aesthetic vision of imperfection

Architects and creators from different origins discover this careful study of space with amazement. An ode to the contrast between light and dark as a tool to describe the differ-ences in culture, aesthetics and perspective between both sides of our planet.

Absolutely perfect creation does not exist, and if it does, it would be unnatural. Finding beauty in the impermanent, the incomplete, allows us to appreciate the most natural forms of what surrounds us. Asymmetry, roughness, simplicity or naivety, all suggest the natural process of things, in a world in constant transformation.

Without a doubt, a valuable essay for Western readers, which offers a broad perspective on the arts and way of life of Japan. A door to the complementary vision that we need so much.