there’s an artist by the name of jean-baptiste chardin who drew mainly ordinary things and ordinary people.
“He liked to depict bowls of fruit, jugs, coffeepots, loaves of bread, knives, glasses of wine, and slabs of meat. He liked painting kitchen utensils, not just pretty chocolate jars but saltcellars and strainers. When it came to people, Chardin’s figures were rarely doing anything heroic: one was reading a book, another was building a house of cards, a woman had just come home from the market with a couple of loaves of bread, and a mother was showing her daughter some mistakes she had made in her needlework.”
and yet his paintings were “extraordinarily beguiling and evocative”.
too often, we pay close attention to the extraordinary and the spectacular while neglecting the ordinary and the mundane.
but the mundane can be extraordinarily beautiful.
how do we capture this beauty?
1) acknowledge beauty in normal, ordinary things
“When Proust urges us to evaluate the world properly, he repeatedly reminds us of the value of modest scenes.”
the value of modest scenes.
2) slow down
“It might be a Proustian slogan: n’allez pas trop vite (don’t go too fast). And an advantage of not going by too fast is that the world has a chance of becoming more interesting in the process.”
don’t go too fast.
3) take a second look because we failed to look properly before
“The happiness that may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust’s therapeutic conception. It reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them.”
taking a second look.
there is nothing wrong with our lives. we just did not look properly.
4) allow artists to help us see
“Why don’t we appreciate things more fully? The problem goes beyond inattention or laziness. It may also stem from insufficient exposure to images of beauty, which are close enough to our own world in order to guide and inspire us.”
when my friend sunny told me about haruki murakami, i decided i had to read him.
my first book was the wind-up bird chronicle and this was how it started:
When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along to an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.
i don’t listen to opera or cook pasta but to this day, these 3 lines resonate with me, in a way i cannot explain.
murakami’s novels celebrate the mundane: reading, listening to music, drinking, sitting quietly in a bar, taking a train to nowhere.
when we do these activities, we may not feel it’s anything special. but in the hands of a good artist, they can be deep and meaningful.
like really good cucumbers.
“Fresh, simple, smells like life. Really good cucumbers. A far more sensible food than kiwifruit.” – Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it.
My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/