Art Life Observations Repost

Beauty in the Mundane

Hiding in Plain Sight

We scurry about our daily lives tending to real and imagined schedules, not taking time to enjoy the wealth of artistic views in our own homes. Some people wander their hallways with faces buried in a phone screen, soaking up the latest news on the shape of Kardashian rear ends. Others sink deep into their couches, fixated on the twisted universe of conspiracy and Putin adoration offered by Fox News. We all have our excuses, and none of them are good.

If your mind is not in the present, then it is indulging in abstract contemplation of the future or the past, both of which are more speculation than reality. The human mind is a modeling machine, taking in data and creating mental models of our environment. These models allow us to filter out the sights and sounds around us and focus on the task at hand. It’s only when the task at hand is simply observing that we might take the opportunity to look more deeply at what surrounds us.

I was hard at work on our evening dinner when olive oil, shimmering in the skillet, caught my eye. Pierogis were on the menu. I wish I could say they were marvelous delights prepared from scratch, but the ease of Costco shopping won the day. The oil was at that optimal temperature where it undulated and shimmied in the light but had yet to produce any smoke. I couldn’t resist a photograph. The article’s cover image is a slightly post-processed rendition of what I saw.

The combination of metal, oil, heat, and the cooking-hood lights presented a fleeting moment where the skillet looked like a laser show, or perhaps the Starship Enterprise engaging its warp drive. Ten seconds later, the image was gone, replaced by a pan full of sizzling pierogis.

The Soft Glow of Turkish Lights by WM House (©2023 Archean Enterprises, LLC; ArcheanArt)

The evening before my pierogi cooking observations, I was in the kitchen, waiting on food in the oven. A glass filled with golden Elevator IPA, fresh from our local brewery, was in my hand and my ears were digging Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa performing live in Amsterdam with the piece “I’d Rather Go Blind.” It’s a fabulous piece of music and a magnificent performance, well worth the nine minutes and forty-two seconds it takes to see it and hear it on YouTube. You must listen with good earphones, not the thin sound of your phone or computer speakers.

As I sipped and took in the music, my eyes wandered to the dim corner of the kitchen dining nook, where hanging Turkish lights softly illuminated the wall behind them. I was struck by the simple beauty of the scene and captured a picture after some help from my daughter with adjusting the iPhone filters.

The sinuous twisting of the lights and the colorful patterns cast on the back wall caught my attention. The iPhone filters framed the scene with a dark vignette. A lot of concentrated beauty filled the back corner of the nook, homegrown art I often miss when my mental model filters it out so I can concentrate on tasks other than observing.

Yes, as per my modus operandi, you again see a bit of post-processing.

A Flowering Quince by WM House (©2023 Archean Enterprises, LLC; ArcheanArt)

Sometimes objects align to provide a unique view and transform the mundane into something more. It took me a while to spot the juxtaposition of a flowering bonsai Quince against a darkened family room. The image edges toward surrealism when viewed through the camera lens, an effect your eye doesn’t immediately pick up.

Webster defines the adjective surreal as: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream. Art bubbling up from below our conscious awareness is an interesting concept. The surrealist movement, influenced by Freud, started in 1924 with the belief that the unconscious mind was the source of imagination and creativity.

When we become cognisant of a scene we believe to be moving or meaningful, can we really explain why? What transforms our mundane and everyday observations into the recognition of beauty? I don’t have answers to these questions. But even if I did, I probably couldn’t put those answers into meaningful words. Despite our lack of answers, art is hiding in plain sight where ever we are.

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.