New Year is always a time to reconsider, reflect and perhaps decide to change behaviours, attitudes and actions. This year, with Covid and recession rampaging the world, it is more poignant than most and this famous quote keeps coming to mind: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” This was written a long time ago by William Morris who was the father of the arts and crafts movement.
I am going to substitute “houses” for “ life “ and the quote works just as well and is perhaps even more pertinent and thought provoking. I like to start the new year, full of hope, aspirations, ideas for new challenges and areas for growth. Of course through the year some of this naturally dwindles but I find it useful- as do many of us – to mark moments in the calendar which become symbols for change and new leaves to be turned. If nothing else, its a good start to the year and the inevitable new years wish to get fit and work off the mince pies and clotted cream !
So, why do I find that this quote keeps returning to my mind? There are two reasons: firstly I think it is a mode of thinking that will help us through these difficult days ahead and secondly it is kind of a maxim for my musical and aesthetic way of working which I hope in turn will have a subtle effect upon those who listen to my songs.
So why will beauty and usefulness help in the days ahead and why should we cultivate it?
Usefulness is obvious- it is practical and an attitude that we need , that make life ergonomic and function well. Useful things create a better practical flow and adds to calmness, functionality and good process which in turn leads to good results. Being a somewhat goal and result obsessed society, it is easy for us to see the value of usefulness.
But beauty is different. Beauty in objects, things, architecture and art of all kinds is something that is harder to define and often has time, skill, and rarity linked to its creation. It therefore – once objectified- becomes a quality that is the preserve of the wealthy. This is so much the case when it comes to architecture – social housing is largely not known for its beauty. Bespoke artisan architecture of all styles often is. Beauty can be found in many things; music, art, architecture, nature, literature, food , interior design. The list can go on and on. It is therefore an aesthetic that can be applied to anything. It can even loosely be applied to qualities we see in people and ways of living a life.
For me, beauty is an essential aesthetic. Not in a self conscious, glammed up kind of way but in a simple way as a quality that is breathed into the vary nature of something. It is a quality that uplifts, creates space and reflection and encourages appreciation and gratitude. It can calm and nurture and fill me with awe and wonder. The beauty in nature does this to me every day- whether it is seeing a natural water diamond as a frozen dewdrop on the end of a twig or watching the graceful patterning of the geese flying in our northern skies. Beauty is a quality that could be for everyone, not just the preserve of the monied and can be found in things owned and unowned. Of course, what we find beautiful will be subjective and varied- which adds to its value and quirkiness . It is not a static quality!
How could marrying these two qualities together and consciously bringing them into our daily lives help us in this winter of dreadfulness when life is far from this in actuality?
Life for many of us has become myopic, somewhat narrow and with more time and less money on our hands. Outside on the macro level seismic changes are being wrought – the effects of which we can not yet fully comprehend. But, we can exert change, consciousness and positivity in our own small and little lives. We can create beautiful meals with love and care for our families, redesign our homes, develop skills, seek to be “beautiful people” through thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity of spirit, graceful action and wisdom. Suddenly from having not much to do- we have the application of beauty and usefulness to apply to everything through small actions and activities throughout the day.
We can not only collect beautiful and useful things that enrich and uplift our homes but seek to make our lives and our actions and thoughts both beautiful and useful. Of course, this is aspirational but that is what new year’s resolutions are- in general- things to aspire to throughout the year. This makes our small lives interesting, challenging and catalysts for growing change and development.
How do I interpret beauty and usefulness in my own artistic praxis and individual life?
In relation to my songwriting there is generally an aesthetic lyrical and melodic theme to create something that inspires: is a beautiful artfully told story illustrated through voice and instrumentation that will encourage at different points the qualities of stillness, reflection, appreciation and energy “upliftment “ in the listener. Good aspirations which I aspire to in my work. The themes of my songs are many and varied but can be of relevance and reflection to todays current dilemmas. I therefore hope they can be useful. In many ways my latest project with my new band Karuna: to create a debut single that also has at its core the usefulness of raising money for the most vulnerable in the world with Covid is an appropriate symbol of my vision. Beauty and usefulness encapsulated in a song.
And In my personal life? I try to see the best in people, see their beauty, be grateful for small scraps of beauty and try to live a life of kindness, grace and harmony that leaves a simple carbon footprint . I try to build my qualities of resilience, develop my skills, set forth with vision with projects and try to be mindful and empower myself to be a helpful human being that wishes to live in both a useful and beautiful way. They are good aspirations but not always remembered or actualised as I am an ordinary woman. My newest skill I wish to develop is the project of learning the keyboard- which I hope will be both useful and beautiful one day, a good project for a lockdown winter. Beauty will be far from its execution for many months to come – but a good thing to remember as I clank my way through learning to play with two hands together . One day it might be both beautiful and useful in my songwriting! Time will tell…..! Have a happy beautiful and useful new year however this year comes into being.