Every Day Art

By: Dennis Bates

No matter where we live there are things around us that inspire us and make us who we are if we only take time to notice. Frances Mayes calls these things “every day art” in her book “Bella Tuscany.” It is truly a wonderful concept when you stop to think about it.


I live in Iowa, and it is very tempting to think that there is nothing exciting to write about here. It’s farm land, with a few smaller cities and lots of tiny towns sprinkled everywhere. How inspiring can that be? More inspiring than you think, if you take the time to stop and notice.


Antonin Dvorak perfected and finalized “The New World Symphony” in Spillville, Iowa, a town so remote and tiny that most Iowans couldn’t tell you where it is. The Czech genius took his inspiration from the simple sounds of Iowa song birds and surrounding farm animals to finish his masterpiece.


Two Iowa farmers in that area built magnificent clocks with intricate movements using only the a converted sewing machine as a lathe and crude hand tools. They needed something to do in the winter time, and although they ordered parts from all over the world, neither of them every traveled more than 100 miles from home in the lifetimes. Yet the clocks that they created are still on display in the same building where Dvorak wrote the symphony, and the Bily clocks, as they are called, are considered to priceless masterpieces, that even Lloyds of London can’t put a price tag on.


Grant Wood painted in a small town in the Cedar Rapids area and created “American Gothic” the famous painting of the stoic farmer and his wife. “The Music Man” used an Iowa town for its inspiration and the musical “State Fair,” used the Iowa State Fair as its model.


But even those examples don’t go far enough to show every day art because they don’t capture the soul, the simplistic passion of the art that is created anew each day, every day from the every day. That is the art that I want to capture because it is the art that I know. I have lived all over the country, but even when I lived somewhere else, I was at heart a simple, every day Iowan. That is who I am; that is what I have to draw from, and when I let it speak to me, it is more than enough.


There is beauty here; there are miracles here, but we miss them because we don’t allow ourselves to see them. My grandfather used to breath deeper on hot July days when the unmistakable odors of the hog lots mated with the hot, humid air and he would tell us to take a deep breath. While we held our breath and squinted saying phew, he laughed and said that’s Iowa money we smelled. We used to think he was crazy, but now I think he may have just been an art lover.


A lot of people today have simply lost their sense of smell.


In the summer Iowa is a canvas covered with a background of pure black dirt, corn green stalks and golden yellow tops, contrasted against pure deep blue skies. Where else can you get color combinations like that? Yet even Iowans these days miss those colors, they miss the rich smells of the hog lots and the country roads that still kick up rooster tails of dust because they aren’t paved, but left with gravel tops.


Wherever you live there is something that you’re missing, something that could make you a local artist without having any ability to draw or paint. All you have to do is slow down, look, listen and realize how uniquely God has made the area where you live, and you will begin to appreciate the beauty and the accessibility of every day art.


Look around!





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