Essay: Appreciating Beauty in Everyday Life

Portrait of a woman and Eggleton

By Dave Hood

“Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism. Beauty allows us to forget the pain and dwell on the joy. “(Matthew Fox, Writer)

Beauty has the qualities of a pleasing shape, form, colour, and harmony. It evokes aesthetic pleasure. It is experienced with our senses, especially sight and hearing. It is tasteful and not vulgar or offensive to the senses. It is the antithesis of what is abject or ugly. A black-eyed Susan blooming in the garden, stars in the night sky, stylish architecture, city at dusk are examples of beauty.

Beauty is everywhere in our daily travels. To experience it, we must notice it, instead of being blind to our surroundings. I see beauty of a sunset in winter, shadow of a person passing on the street, reflection in a window. I hear beauty in the rustling of the maples, the rain drumming on the roof, the call of a loon on a pristine lake, the meditative sound of a flowing river. I smell a beautiful scent of a woman’s perfume, a blooming flower in the garden, the delicious aroma of spaghetti and meat sauce. I have felt beauty in the sublime. It evokes the emotion of “awe” and “wonder.” I recall the sound of crashing ocean waves and the sight of the vastness open highway, the majestic mountains in the background. I observe the beauty in women who pass my line of sight, how they walk, how they carry themselves, how they dress in stylish clothes, how they share facial expressions. I see beauty in art, such as Rothko’s colour field paintings or the impressionist works by Monet. I feel beauty in music, such as the trumpet sounds of Miles Davis or the haunting music of Peter Gabriel. I’m witness to the beauty in the urban landscape, such as public sculpture and architecture, or the contrast of nature, such as a tree, with the extraordinary design of a building.

We make the choice to be blind to beauty in daily life. Distraction is one reason. Everywhere I travel, I witness the distraction of people who are gazing at smartphones or tuning out, listening to music with their headphones. The other day, I witnessed a woman crossing the street, fixated on the content of her smartphone. She narrowly missed being hit a motorist in a rush, driving in a flashy automobile

Impatience is another reason. I see so many people possessed by rush, especially driving through the city. Just yesterday, after the light turned green, I saw a young man, in his sporty BMW, press the gas, and speed to the next red light. He failed to see the blooming flowers or pretty woman waiting for a bus. I often drive along the highway on Sunday at 7 a.m., when most people are still in bed, observe how motorists will be speeding past as if on the race track at the Indie.

Worry also prevents us from noticing beauty. Many people are lost in thought, ruminating about past regrets, worrying about of the unknown future, stressed by the demands of work, family, and other responsibilities, which blind them. Routine is a big reason for blindness to beauty in our daily lives. Routine often leads to boredom, habitual behavior, daydreaming.  And so we fail to see the beauty in details of people, places, things, objects that in our line of sight every day.

You can learn to appreciate beauty in the ordinary or common place by first developing an aesthetic attitude. Begin to observe and contemplate things for no other reason than to appreciate them. To observe the details of your life requires that you become aware. It requires that we pay attention. Next, develop the art of seeing. Focus on what artists call the visual “visual elements of art”—lines, shape, form, colour, pattern, and texture—in our surroundings. Study the images of photographs by William Eggleston, who is well known for his urban landscapes of the 1960s. He embraced the art of “eccentric vision” and “visual poetry” of the mundane.” His personal surroundings became his art studio. He captured artistic photographs of a light bulb, television, bathroom sink, gas station, puddle of water, impromptu portraits of people on the street, and much more.

The city is an art gallery waiting for you to experience. Begin noticing beauty in your daily life. Search for it in the ordinary, extraordinary, and sublime. Take a walk with your camera in a new place, and capture photographs of anything that evokes a sense of wonder, awe, delight. Photographer Dorothea Lange once said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Practise the advice of photographer Ansel Adams who reminds us this about the visual art of photography: “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

Learning photography and capturing images with my camera has taught me how to see beauty in the details. The lines, shapes, colours, contrast, texture, spaces, points of interest. Every Sunday, I take a stroll with my camera in the city, unless the weather is painfully cold or rain would damage my camera. I will capture images of architecture, abstracts of bikes, attractive people passing, the details of the urban landscape, like William Eggleston.

I have discovered that making delightful photographs from beautiful things is a remedy for the malady of boredom. It is also what positive psychologists refer to as a “flow experience,” which enables me to become immersed in concentration and observation, and so I lose track of time. Taking photographs is meaningful activity that gives me the opportunity to express my creative spirit.  Some days become memorable after taking a few amazing image I believe have the qualities of artist. Taking photographs are a means of savouring fleeting, pleasurable moments, as well as the art of the ordinary and extraordinary in my daily travels.

Drawing and sketching are often meditations on beauty. By learning to sketch or draw, we can discover beauty in the ordinary. They are visual thinking tools for creative problem solving, as well as mediums for making art, such as still life, portrait, or landscape. Sketching and drawing teach us how to see creatively. To sketch or draw, you must learn to observe. Then you must draw what you have witnessed—the contours or lines and the details, such as colour, shape, form, texture. Sketching and drawing teach you how to see things clearer, because you must focus, pay attention, and discover the details.

Appreciating the beauty enables us to become more spiritual. Spirituality means different things to each of us. I consider it a “the search for the sacred,” the desire to experience awe or wonder, anything deserving of reverence or respect. Beauty is also anything artistic that evokes pleasure, and so observing art, whether in a gallery in or daily life can be a spiritual practise. It is a spiritual practise of awareness using our senses. Buddhists refer to being aware of one’s surroundings instead of being lost in thought as the spiritual practise of “mindfulness.”

Michael Fox, author of Creating Spirituality, writes: “We all share beauty. It strikes us indiscriminately. There is no end to beauty for the person who is aware. Even the cracks between the sidewalk reveal geometric patterns of amazing beauty. If we take pictures of them and blow up the photographs, we realize we walk on beauty every day, even when things seem ugly around us.”

Writer and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that “nature always wears the colours of the spirit.”

Observing beauty delights the mind. When I make a memorable photograph, one that I consider beautiful, I become aware of how “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” (Pablo Picasso)Appreciating beauty allows me to forget the pain and suffering, forget the hardships and misfortunes, forget the boredom and daily routines, and dwell on the joys of living.


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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