The ordinary arts

At the Hearthside Bed and Breakfast, Bar Harbor, Maine 2012

At the Hearthside Bed and Breakfast, Bar Harbor, Maine 2012

“The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”Thomas Moore

There are small details– inexpensive or free– that make our homes a more nurturing environment.  For me, some of the minimal efforts that have maximum impact include making the bed daily, keeping things tidied up, and adding touches of color with flowers, books, or other attractive items of personal significance.  What are some of the simple ways you can brighten your life by enhancing your home?

This post was originally published seven years ago today. You can view the original with comments here.


  1. I love art work, and often it is not very expensive. I buy prints and drawing at art shows or markets, etc. I even utilize postcards or received cards set upon a bookshelf or desk and then switch them out for newer ones. I also have been known to–gasp!–tape a magazine photo (usually from UK’s Country Living issues) on my frig or even a closet door. But I am fond of photography and know a few who do great work so I collect some–not always costing that much if anything. (My brother and sister-in-law, for example are constant world travelers for pleasure but mostly photography and they produce some amazing images and exhibit.)
    I also love books and magazines on table tops, pillows, throws, flowers, candles, family photos, CDs and records stacked on shelves, cherished items given to me or bought on a special trip or occasion. I have above my computer desk a photo of a woman leaning out her window in, likely, Italy, and the saying, “I look; morning and night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing as though with your arms open.” That is by the inimitable Mary Oliver, a beloved poet to me…
    Wow, this could be another whole post, sorry. (In fact, I think I did post about budget decorating that I do…:) )
    Thanks for this, Julia! Love the image you have above.

    • Cynthia, you use many of the same approaches to decorating that I like best. Jeff and I long ago decided that we wanted to display only works of art (or prints of them) of which we had seen the original, and often met the artist in person, on various travels. I learned to use the frame shop on base and two of our first prints were artist’s proofs from the Laguna Beach Art Show (in California) which we attended in 1990. My parents had the same idea of picking up original art on our travels, and I still have and display two original signed etchings,one of Heidelberg, Germany, and one of old Montreal. I love the quote from Mary Oliver and it’s one I used fairly recently in a post. In fact, she’s one of the most frequently quoted people on this blog. Type her name in to the search box and a lot of posts will pop up! It’s rare for a poet to be as successful as she was, but I believe that many readers– myself among them– felt a deep kinship with her no matter how different the circumstances of our individual lives.

      • So true about Mary Oliver. I am a poetry lover from childhood so have many that I adore from decades ago of reading and admiring–as well as write and publish my own..

        • It took me many years to realize I was a poetry lover; for some reason I didn’t think of myself as such, though I read and enjoyed many different poets. But the older I get, the more I value poetry for its concise imagery and its ability to bypass the brain, so to speak, and go straight to the heart. As a word lover I need to see the concrete evidence that often, fewer words are better.

          • Ah, well said–of course, since you are also a wordsmith. 🙂 Yes, poetry most often “cuts to the chase” though sometimes it leaves me hanging in a nebulous mental place and I have to re-read a piece often. And perhaps even then, simply accept what it is. 🙂 Then it is much like contemporary art, which I love but do not always understand in a way that makes the most immediate sense.

            • I agree with everything you say here. Poetry is definitely something I read and re-read, even if I think I “get it” the first time. Often there are new perspectives with every reading, especially with the benefit of years of life to inform the reading of certain works. Contemporary art is like hip-hop music to me; I can often agree that it’s the product of great talent, but it’s usually not my thing. And sometimes I look at a work and think, “Uh, no.” 🙂 Or, in the (sort of) immortal words of the hilarious parody The Profit by Kehlog Albran, there is this passage on art (disclaimer – if you’re unfamiliar with The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, you won’t get this at all):

              Then an eccentric looking man said,
              Speak to us of Art.
              And he said:
              It might as easily be said that man could live without Art as that man could live without water.
              Look upon the innocent scribblings of little children.
              Doubt not that each of us emerged from the womb an artist.
              Art is freedom.
              That which is called Art, yet is made subservient to commerce is not Art.
              That which is called Art, yet is made subservient to a Nation or State is not Art.
              That which is called Art, yet is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art is not Art. That crap my six year old son could do, the Master explained.

              • Of course, I do know Gibran, goes way back to my teens when I adored him most. I may not entirely appreciate this smart parody but I get the point! 🙂
                My daughter is an art professor, a performance artist and sculptor/textiles/ digital artist and her work can seem very abstract, sociopolitical and deeply emotional as well. Does everyone tune in to this, do people always want to take the time to be extra thoughtful to find the core of modern art works? Likely not always. Still, I value all artist’s renderings and as yes, it is freedom, and it is also as water…Speaking for myself, art must live in a great variety of its forms. I don’t always like or connect to many writers/dancers/composers etc., either, but I applaud their voices, their stories, their risk taking. We can choose to disregard or just ignore it, as well, right? But I do not think a 6 yo can make art that mature, disciplined artists create. I do enjoy a child’s random scribblings but a child who is an artist at heart says something more and different with her/his scribbles, too…Art, I believe, truly can save lives–sometimes it may be the artist’s, too.
                I always get something from our exchanges, Julia!

                • I think you hit the nail on the head when you observed that people don’t always want to take the time to get past the surface enjoyment (or lack thereof) and go deeper; this is also the reason why the classics are sadly neglected in favor of formulaic best-sellers. There is nothing wrong with popular fiction; indeed I enjoy it tremendously– some of it, anyway. But somewhere along the line, I discovered that the immense investment of time and mental effort in works such as Moby Dick or The Brothers Karamazov paid rich dividends and were well worth it. I think there’s a place for all sorts of art and literature, and snobs who look down their noses on popular works are, in my opinion, making the same mistake as those who dismiss abstract or modern art because it’s hard to understand on first glance. I think that the parody of Gibran that I linked is meant to laugh at both types of mistake. None of us should take ourselves more seriously than we take others! And yes, despite the seeming brilliance of some children’s works (especially those to whom we happen to be related 😀 ) it would be a rare prodigy indeed who could produce museum-quality works. Although I do know some 6 year olds who could probably duct tape a banana to the wall, hee-hee.

                  • Well put, Julia. We each sort out our own attitudes and ability to embrace surprising things.
                    I doubt my daughter would ever say she believes she is brilliant, though those who are drawn to her work give plenty of praise and opportunity as she continues to exhibit. Making art of all kinds is hard and risky, as you know. It’s most likely a matter of personal taste and education, what one finds worthy according to one’s preconceived notions or expectations that lets us embrace/ and delve deeper/value any work.
                    Right, taking one’s self too seriously can be a fatal error! And daughter and I would certainly agree re: our creative output and attitudes.
                    Best to you, as ever. 🙂

                    • Thank you! I appreciate your contributions here.

  2. I keep a quilt over every chair and sofa for everyone to cuddle under. Even in summer when the AC is on, some prefer to be warmer. My walls are filled with handcrafted art rather than store bought. I loved the teddy bears on the mantle. At least that’s what it looked like to me.

    • I’m with you on the quilts and handcrafted art. I think “cozy” is a great vibe all year round!

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