Ordinary Things

Filed in Episode 3 by on December 16, 2016 2 Comments

One of the side effects of illness and injury (in my case a slipped disk) can be that your world becomes smaller. You don’t travel for your work. Your chance of being somewhere new is small. You move more slowly and aren’t up to long trips. It’s not feasible to go to all those special places, where you usually find respite from the stress of the week. A result (and a consolation) can be that you spend more time looking, really looking at what is around you, looking up close at things you would probably otherwise pass by. You notice how what you pass on the same route is different every time. Instead of the “special”, your world is populated by the “ordinary”. And you discover how much beauty, wonder, enchantment there is in the ordinary. If you choose to look.

The big and stunning isn’t in my back yard and the wild and untouched (whatever that means) is definitely out of range. The wonder in the “ordinary” is to be found in as much in a town as in the countryside. It’s not even just in what is pretty in my roof garden – maybe even exactly not that.

It’s in the flowers growing out of a crack in the pavement outside my front door,


the hollyhocks in improvised “gardens” on the most ordinary streets, img_1921

autumn leaves in varying degrees of decomposition,

img_2707       img_2663 img_2831 img_2800 img_2797 img_2804

the kind of tree that lines the city streets I walk along,


the play of wind on water on a cloudy day: img_2714 Singelgracht 26/11/2016 (video)

All this stuff is just there. They are things I pass on one or other of my regular routes in my restricted geography. There’s nothing special about the photography. It’s just what I saw. One just has to develop a habit of looking. And not be in a hurry.

Of course context comes into this. Because the context (which is also an ecosystem) in which that little flower found itself – growing between the paving stones in my ordinary street – is what made it so enchanting. In my garden it would have been just another pretty flower. (This would be a brilliant segue into Gregory Bateson’s wider concept of mind but I’ll need to come back to that another time).

How we perceive beauty in what’s around us does not arise from a rational process but rather from that part of our mind that Gregory Bateson called the Primary Process – the subconscious, if you like. Our ability to create beauty lies, according to Bateson, in the same part of our mind. If our rational abilities are what distinguish us from other life forms, then the primary process is what we have in common with them. That’s why Bateson saw art (creativity in general) as a path to understanding ourselves as part of that world (as opposed to visitors, consumers or exploiters of it). So art and craft are where I’m going next with this theme.




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  1. Helen Tyrrell says:

    Love this Stuart!

  2. Sana Tawileh says:

    Absolutely loved this post, Stuart!
    A beautiful reminder to let everyday and ordinary things, be inspiring.

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