The Art of Everyday Life – Beauty in Common Things


Adamov Village pond

Inspiration can come in so may forms and sometimes the most common, everyday things often take on special meaning, and seem to become incredibly beautiful or interesting. The inspiration for many magically wonderful poems and paintings, comes from life’s simplest activities and memories.

The 18th-century English artist William Hogarth conveyed comedy, social criticism and moral lessons through canvases that told stories of ordinary people full of narrative detail, often in serial form. A Rake’s Progress is a series of eight paintings produced in 1733. The paintings tell the story of Tom Rakewell, a young man who follows a path of vice and self-destruction. After inheriting a fortune from his miserly father, he comes to London, wastes all his money on luxurious living, prostitution and gambling, and as a consequence is imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and ultimately the Bethlehem Hospital Madhouse. 

William Hogarth Rakes Progress painting1

A Rake’s Progress is a series of eight paintings by William Hogarth. In the first painting, Tom has come into his fortune on the death of his miserly father. While the servants mourn, he is being measured for new clothes.

Jane Austen’s Emma (1816), appears to be a striking representation of what is taking place daily. Austen’s novels recall something of the merits of the Dutch school of painting, where the subjects are not often elegant and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the viewer. Austen’s insistence on the ordinary and the common incidents of life, is reminiscent of the seventeenth-century genre painting – the pictorial representation of scenes or events from everyday life. Teniers was by far the best known Flemish painter of such compositions:

Teniers Tavern scene

Teniers the Younger, Tavern Scene 1658

Have a look at these simple, yet nostalgic verses of Anna Akhmatova, a Russian modernist poet (1889 –1966):

Inside this home, all things and flowers
Exude a rather pleasant scent.
The motley vegetables there tower
Against the rich and black seedbed.

The matting has been taken down
From hotbeds, but the chill pervades.
There is a pond, like none around,
Where even slime looks like brocade.

A little boy, whose voice would falter,
Had told me meekly, in distress,
A giant carp lives in this water
And with him, too, a giant carp-ess.

1913 (Translation by Andrey Kneller)

Evidently, to write these lines, Anna Akhmatova, in some way, got inspired by her experiences of simple (maybe even dull) village life. Yet, being the huge talent she was, always meant that her poetry would never fail to draw powerful emotions out of you. The poem takes you back to your childhood and evokes your hidden longings for an uncomplicated life; it gives you a jolt of peace and healing. Whatever is in your mind, these simple words urge you to do something; maybe even paint this beautiful feeling!

To continue the village theme let’s see some examples of how different painters found inspiration in common, everyday surroundings:

Landscape paintings

Pablo Neruda’s “odes to common things” celebrate everyday objects from socks and scissors, to a bed and a box of tea.

Pablo Neruda ode to common things

From ‘Ode to the tomato’:

Tomatoes have
their own glow,
and a benign grandeur.
All the same, we’ll have
to put this one to death:
the knife
sinks into
its living pulp,
it’s a bloody
organ,
a poignant,
raw,
inexhaustible
sun.

From ‘Ode to Things’:

I pause in houses,
streets and
elevators,
touching things,
identifying objects
that I secretly covet:
this one because it rings,
that one because
it’s as soft
as the softness of a woman’s hip,
that one there for its deep-sea color,
and that one for its velvet feel.

From ‘Ode to a bar of soap’:

Do I detect
your pungent
odor
in cut-rate
dry goods and unforgettable
cologne, in barbershops
and the clean cuontryside,
in sweet water?
This is what
you are,
soap: you are pure delight,
the passing fragrance
that slithers
and sinks like a
blind fish
to the bottom of the bathtub.

Immerse yourself and get inspired from all those little things that you find exciting and interesting, no matter how common they might be!

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