Broken Plates Get A New Meaning With ‘Kintsugi,’ The Art Of Finding Beauty In Flaws

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

It happens to us all. Maybe you’re washing the dishes and your hands are slippery with soap. Or maybe you just lost your grip.

Either way, there’s now a ceramic plate shattered on the floor. If you’re lucky, there wasn’t any food on it, but breaking a plate, or a bowl, or a mug, is always a pain. You have a mess to clean up and you’re out a dish!

If you’re like most of us, you’ll probably just throw the broken pieces away. If you’re crafty, maybe you can find a use for them for a project. But its days as a plate? They’re over. Right?

Well, not if you know the ways of a Japanese craft called kintsugi.

A philosophy as much as an art form, kintsugi takes broken pottery and repairs it using lacquer mixed with powdered gold. The result is a stunning series of gleaming golden seams where the breaks once were.

But it’s more than just a pretty way to repair something broken. It’s also a way of communicating the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which is all about embracing flaws and imperfections as beautiful and unique.

By highlighting the cracks in a dish, for example, it shows the history of the dish, and how it’s overcome being broken.

It’s something that we can also see in ourselves, like that even though we may not be “perfect,” we’re perfect in our own unique ways, and whatever marks we might bear actually tell the stories of what we’ve been through, which is what one artist is doing to teach kids about transplants. And when we learn to love our “flaws,” we learn to love ourselves.

Check out some of the amazing examples of kintsugi that have been made throughout history below, and see that even flaws can be beautiful.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold powder. It’s not clear when it first started, but it’s believed to have emerged in the 1400s.

Not only does it restore the piece of pottery to usefulness, but it also creates a stunning pattern of golden seams where the breaks were.

Once repaired, the bowls, cups, and plates could be safely used again, and they’d have unique character!

In fact, kintsugi became a beloved art form in Japan, and took on philosophical meaning, as well.

In Japan, there’s a philosophy known as wabi-sabi, or the embracing of imperfection.

A much-used, well-worn object, for example, is considered beautiful for its history and for how useful it’s been.

Therefore, the cracks in a dish are considered something to celebrate, not something to hide.

It reminds us that the things we think are flaws — like scars, blemishes, wrinkles, or other signs of our own wear and tear — are actually signs of our unique growth and stories.

The cracks signify an event in the life of this bowl, the way a scar or a laugh line might signify an event in a person’s life.

To make a kintsugi dish, the broken pieces are collected, rimmed with gold lacquer, and fitted back together.

The lacquer can also be used to fill in missing pieces, like this plate’s chipped edge.

It even works on modern pieces, like this favorite coffee mug!

And the lacquer, especially the kind used today, is all food-safe, so the dishes can keep being used.

Another technique joins together different dishes to create all-new ones with a “patchwork” design.

It was a thrifty way of creating something new if some of the pieces of broken dishes had been lost, and it creates a stunning, functional work of art.

In the wabi-sabi philosophy behind kintsugi, a broken dish isn’t trash.

It’s simply undergone a transformation and become slightly different, but still just as good — maybe even better.

It’s also a great, thrifty way to make the most out of what you have, even if it’s a broken plate.

The practice has also inspired artists to create crazy sculptures like this one by Korean artist Yeesookyung, who takes all kinds of broken pottery and ceramic pieces and fuses them together into these giant hybrids.

While these aren’t functional, they do make us look at the broken pieces in a whole new way!

If you have a broken dish you don’t want to part with, you can even by kintsugi kits online and create some stunning (and food-safe) artwork for your table.

Check out the video below to get some more insight into the philosophy and history of this craft.

This practice is not only beautiful to look at, but it’s also a reminder that beauty can be found anywhere — even in worn, broken, or otherwise “flawed” things, including people.

SHARE this art form and philosophy if you think we should find beauty everywhere!