Art History Lab

Transforming Brokenness: The Timeless Art of Kintsugi

When we see a beautifully crafted ceramic piece, we tend to admire its sleek finish and striking appearance. However, when it breaks, most of us would consider it as damaged or not usable anymore.

For the Japanese, however, breaking is not the end but rather a new beginning. The Japanese have a traditional art form called Kintsugi that teaches us that broken things are not worthless but a unique opportunity to create something even more beautiful.

Kintsugi Process and Philosophy

Kintsugi, also known as Kintsukuroi, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using a mix of powdered gold, platinum, or silver and a plant-based lacquer. The word Kintsugi literally translates to “golden joinery,” meaning to join with gold.

The Kintsugi process involves repairing the broken pieces of the vessel by applying a mixture of lacquer and gold powder to the fractures. This special process creates a unique pattern of gold shimmering lines across the cracks, entirely transforming the look of the damaged object.

The philosophy behind Kintsugi is rooted in the Buddhist ideals of wabi-sabi, which embraces the beauty of imperfections and the inevitability of change. The Japanese believe that the breakage of pottery is an inevitable part of its life, and instead of hiding the cracks, Kintsugi artists follow the philosophy of shattering and restoration by highlighting the breaks and turning them into a new form of art.

Origins and History of Kintsugi

Kintsugi has a long history in Japan and first emerged as an art form during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) when a famous Japanese shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, broke his prized Chinese tea bowl and wanted it repaired. The lacquer coating process used at the time left a visible line along the repaired crack, which made the bowl look even more beautiful.

This new technique of repairing ceramics using lacquer and gold powder became popular as a means of restoration. Another related art form that influenced Kintsugi is Maki-e the Japanese art of decorating lacquer using gold or silver powder.

Maki-e adds beauty to objects, and Kintsugi employs the same technique to repair them.

Meaning and Significance of Kintsugi

Kintsugi has a deep philosophical meaning that embodies the ethos of Mushin or the concept of non-attachment, where nothing is permanent. Kintsugi artists use this art form as a metaphor for life, where life can be seen as a beautiful object that is flawed, but the flaws do not make it any less beautiful.

The golden joinery represents the rebirth of the pottery. By repairing the broken pottery with a combination of lacquer and gold, it is brought back to life, so instead of hiding the scars, the cracks become a part of its past.

The golden wires elevate the broken pottery by showing off the cracks as a source of beauty and strength.

Cultural Influences and Related Philosophies

Kintsugi is related to other Japanese philosophies that emphasize embracing flaws and finding beauty in imperfections. Wabi-sabi, for instance, is a philosophy that emphasizes transience, imperfection, and the beauty found within impermanence.

One of the core beliefs of wabi-sabi is that beauty lies within the imperfections, and these imperfections are what make things special and unique. Gaman is another related philosophy that emphasizes perseverance and the ability to endure challenging situations.

This concept is demonstrated by the Kintsugi process of repairing broken pottery, where a shattered object is mended in a very beautiful and aesthetically pleasing way. Yuimaru is a Japanese concept that stresses the intrinsic connection between human beings, and this concept of unity is exemplified by the connection between broken pottery and gold’s shimmering lines.

Eiyoshoku, on the other hand, is a Japanese philosophy that stresses the importance of the connection between the body and mind. Kintsugi’s art shows how physical damage can be transformed into emotional beauty, highlighting the power of the self-healing mechanism of the human mind.

Kansha, which is Japanese for gratitude, is yet another philosophy that is embodied in Kintsugi. The art form encourages us to appreciate what we have in our lives, recognizing that the imperfections make our experiences even more valuable.


In conclusion, Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that teaches us to redefine the meaning of beauty and the inevitability of change. By using a unique combination of powdered metal and lacquer resin, the repairs create a beautiful mending system that acknowledges the beauty of imperfection.

Kintsugi is an essential aspect of the rich Japanese cultural heritage and demonstrates a range of philosophical concepts that are inherent in Japanese culture. Through the practice of Kintsugi, we can learn to embrace change and appreciate the beauty of broken things.

Different Kintsugi Techniques

Kintsugi artists have several techniques in their arsenal for restoring broken pottery. These techniques are suitable for repairing various types of damages, including chips, cracks, and shattered pieces.

The crack method is the most common and straightforward technique in Kintsugi art. In this method, the artist applies a mixture of lacquer and powdered metal over the break line to create a shimmering vein along the fracture.

The joint-call method involves the use of small fragments to fill in the cracks. These fragments could be from the same piece of pottery or other contrasting objects.

The piece method is another technique that uses larger fragments that are joined by the Kintsugi artist to create a new look. The lacquer used in this method is usually thick, and the metal powder is applied evenly to create a distinct shimmering pattern.

Lacquer coating is used to restore pottery with missing pieces where the missing pieces need to be reconstructed. In this process, the artist applies layers of lacquer on a mold to create a new piece, which is then fitted to the broken part, filling in the missing spaces.

Kintsugi artists create unique patterns on the repaired pottery by manipulating the application of the powdered metal and lacquer. By adjusting the lacquer’s thickness and the amount of metal powder used, they can come up with different finishes that add to the beauty of the restored piece.

Historical Use of Similar Repair Techniques

Kintsugi is not the only method used for repairing broken pottery and objects. Other countries and cultures have similar methods that they use to restore damaged objects.

In China and Europe, for instance, broken pottery was mended using staples. Staple repair was a technique used in China, where pieces of broken pottery were attached together using metal fasteners, such as staples, wires, or rivets, to create new patterns.

The result was a completely restored piece, but the metal fasteners left the object with visible scars. In Europe, gold repair, also known as gilt bronze or ormolu, was popular.

Gilt bronze is an alloy of bronze with mercury and was used in the 18th-century. The repair method involved applying the gilt bronze onto the pottery to cover the broken pieces and create a new metallic design.

Cultural Influences of Kintsugi

Kintsugi has a profound cultural influence that emphasizes the Japanese concept of embracing flaws. For the Japanese, embracing flaws means finding beauty in the imperfections, a concept that is inherent in Kintsugi.

This concept encourages the acceptance of the object’s history and the uniqueness of each restored vessel. The Japanese believe that each object has a soul, and once it breaks, whether it is a vase or a plate, it loses that spirit.

The Lacquer and metal repair process of Kintsugi art imbues each object with an entirely new soul and a fresh layer of history, making it unique and even more treasured. For the Japanese, Kintsugi is a symbol of resilience and strength, as it transforms something that has been broken and seemingly rendered useless into a work of art that is even more valuable.

Contemporary Artists and their Application of Kintsugi

Kintsugi has inspired contemporary artists to apply its principles in their work, both as a nod to the traditional art form and as a symbol of reconstruction. Artists such as Charlotte Bailey, Karen LaMonte, and George Inaki Root have embraced Kintsugi art in their work with contemporary pottery and sculptures.

Charlotte Bailey, a British ceramic artist, uses the Kintsugi technique as a part of her practice. She applies the shimmering veins of gold on her pieces of pottery to emphasize the beauty of the repaired breakages.

Karen LaMonte, an American artist, used Kintsugi’s principles in her work, creating a set of glass kimonos that featured cracks that were repaired using layers of gold leaf. George Inaki Root is another artist who uses Kintsugi repairs on his pottery.

His work employs the Kintsugi technique on different surfaces, transforming broken pieces into beautiful works of art.

Victor Solomon, a contemporary multimedia artist, uses Kintsugi as a statement of restoration.

His artwork includes a series of basketball nets that he has repaired using the Kintsugi technique. In doing so, he reflects on the restoration of the broken communities affected by gun violence.


Kintsugi art has a far-reaching cultural influence and a wonderful philosophy that encourages people to embrace imperfection and the beauty of broken things. The Kintsugi techniques used by artists today provide not only a way to restore broken items but also an entirely new layer of history and soul to it.

Kintsugi is an embodiment of the resiliency and perseverance of the Japanese people and their culture, and stands as a symbol for those enduring challenging circumstances, reminding us that there is beauty even in our brokenness.

Psychological and Emotional Healing

Kintsugi has a profound impact on psychological and emotional healing, providing individuals with a tool for recovery and post-traumatic development. Coping with loss and trauma can be incredibly challenging, and Kintsugi offers a metaphorical framework for navigating through these difficult experiences.

The process of repairing shattered pottery mirrors the process of rebuilding one’s life after a traumatic event. Just as the broken pieces are meticulously pieced back together, individuals can gather the fragments of their lives and reconstruct a new narrative.

Kintsugi inspires individuals to see their scars and wounds as gold lines that tell a story of strength and resilience. When engaging in Kintsugi, individuals are encouraged to confront their emotions and embrace the flaws and brokenness.

By acknowledging and accepting these imperfections, individuals can find healing and personal growth. This process of acknowledging and repairing the brokenness fosters a sense of empowerment and control over their own lives.

Personal Growth and Self-Care

Kintsugi encourages personal growth and self-care by emphasizing the values of fortitude and finding value in one’s uniqueness. Just as Kintsugi pottery becomes more valuable and beautiful after being repaired, individuals can find strength and beauty within themselves by embracing their flaws and terrible experiences.

This art form teaches individuals the importance of self-care and self-compassion. By acknowledging their own brokenness, they can prioritize their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Kintsugi serves as a reminder to be gentle with oneself and invest in activities that promote healing and self-growth. Expressing gratitude is also an important aspect of Kintsugi.

This practice reminds individuals to appreciate the resilient spirit within them and the lessons they have learned from their experiences. By recognizing and expressing gratitude for their journey, individuals can find solace and peace.

Definition and Process of Kintsugi Pottery

Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese art form that involves repairing shattered porcelain objects using a mixture of powdered metals such as gold, platinum, or silver and a plant-based lacquer. The word Kintsugi translates to “golden joinery,” emphasizing the use of golden lines to mend broken pottery.

The process of Kintsugi starts by carefully collecting the broken pieces of the object. The artist then applies a mixture of lacquer and metal powder along the cracks, meticulously joining them together.

The lacquer not only acts as an adhesive but also creates a strong bond between the broken pieces. Once the lacquer has dried, the artist polishes the repaired object to create a seamless and shimmering finish.

The result is a pottery piece that showcases the golden veins tracing the previous cracks. Rather than disguising the repair, Kintsugi highlights the history and journey of the object, transforming it into a work of art that celebrates resilience and beauty.

Meaning and Origin of Kintsugi

The origin of Kintsugi can be traced back to the Muromachi period in Japan (1336-1573). It is believed that Kintsugi gained popularity during this time when Ashikaga Yoshimasa, a prominent shogun, had one of his cherished Chinese tea bowls broken.

Instead of discarding the bowl, Yoshimasa had it repaired using lacquer and gold powder. The repaired bowl became a testament to the beauty that can emerge from imperfections.

The philosophy behind Kintsugi lies in the belief that flaws and brokenness should not be hidden or discarded but cherished as part of an object’s history. By embracing the process of repair, Kintsugi teaches individuals to find beauty and value in the imperfections of life.

Kintsugi is a testament to the mastery and skill of Japanese craftsmen who have preserved this art form and passed it down through generations. Today, it continues to inspire individuals around the world, promoting resilience, healing, and the appreciation of life’s journey.


Kintsugi is an art form that extends beyond the simple act of repairing broken pottery. It carries deep meaning and has the power to heal psychology, foster personal growth, and promote self-care.

By confronting and embracing our flaws and brokenness, we can find strength, resilience, and beauty within ourselves. Kintsugi encourages us to appreciate the unique journey we have been through and acknowledge the lessons learned along the way.

The art form serves as a reminder that regardless of how shattered we may feel, we have the power to reconstruct and become even more valuable than before.


Q: Is Kintsugi only used to repair pottery? A: While Kintsugi is commonly associated with pottery repair, it can also be applied to other materials such as glass, metal, or even paper.

Q: What other cultures practice similar repair techniques? A: Other cultures, such as European and Chinese, have historically used techniques such as staple repair and gold repair to mend broken objects.

Q: Can I learn Kintsugi as a hobby? A: Yes, Kintsugi can be learned and practiced as a hobby.

You can find workshops and online resources that offer instructions and materials for beginners. Q: Is Kintsugi a symbol of perseverance?

A: Yes, Kintsugi symbolizes resilience and the ability to transform brokenness into something beautiful. It teaches us to embrace our flaws and find strength in our vulnerability.

Q: Can Kintsugi be applied to emotional healing? A: Yes, Kintsugi can be metaphorically applied to emotional healing, encouraging individuals to embrace their brokenness and find empowerment in their journey of self-discovery and growth.

Q: Are there contemporary artists who incorporate Kintsugi in their work? A: Various contemporary artists have integrated Kintsugi principles into their artwork, using the metaphorical and visual aspects of the art form to explore themes of reconstruction, resilience, and beauty in imperfection.

In conclusion, Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese art form that goes beyond mere pottery repair. It represents a profound philosophy of embracing flaws and finding beauty in imperfections.

By using a combination of lacquer and powdered metal, broken objects are transformed into unique works of art that celebrate resilience and the journey of life. Kintsugi teaches us the importance of self-care, personal growth, and gratitude.

It serves as a metaphor for psychological and emotional healing, urging individuals to embrace their brokenness and find strength in their vulnerability. Through Kintsugi, we learn that imperfections do not diminish value, but rather enhance it, leaving an indelible mark on both objects and souls.

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