Tag Archives: shapes

Make ugly the new beautiful

My mother told me she is thinking about taking up painting again.  “I need you to find me an interesting vegetable” she said.  I interpreted this to mean something a little out of the ordinary.  Of course, it might just be an unusual type of vegetable she was after, craggy and convoluted, to test her artistic prowess.  But it could equally be that misshapen specimen left behind when the shoppers have gone home that might prompt the urge to take paintbrush in hand.


When it comes to buying food for our plates, perfection appears to be everything.  I read this week that almost 40% (yes, over a third!) of the produce grown in the United States is discarded.  It doesn’t meet the stringent requirements of the discerning food shopper and never even reaches the store.

One man in America has a plan to stem this tide of waste, by setting up a business dedicated to selling on this produce to those who are willing to accept that nutritious food comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Doug Rauch is hoping that his new store in Boston will channel some of this produce into local shopping baskets instead of to the trash.

Anyone who has grown food at home will know that the oddly shaped strawberry can be just as juicy as the perfect one, and yet when we are in the supermarket, suddenly only the best will do.  I am guilty of it myself.  After all, I am paying the same price whichever ones I pick.  I want the best!

Unless of course, our purpose is art.  Would Edward Weston’s peppers have been so compelling if they had been a regular shape?  I think not.  Much of the appeal of his famous photographs lies in the imperfections of this everyday vegetable, grown, I presume, at a time when irregularities didn’t consign produce to the waste bin.  The art is in the innate beauty of the sensuous curves, something a modern-day pepper is frequently too prim to display.  I tried it myself with a shop-bought pepper.  See for yourself.  I need to grow my own!

So, my mother didn’t ask for a nice apple for her painting. No, she wanted something interesting.  Perhaps we need to tune into our inner artist when we shop for food as well as when we seek inspiration.  Seek out your culinary muse along with your artistic one in the whims and fancies of nature and see what you find.  You could surprise yourself.

Moving in circles

Draw an evenly curved line, let the ends connect and you have a circle.  In history, the ability of an artist to draw a perfect circle freehand demonstrated mastery of their art.  The 13th century artist Giotto di Bondone is renowned for having drawn a perfect circle’ in red paint to demonstrate his prowess to the Pope at that time and win a commission as a result.

Circles are commonly used as metaphors, to represent completion and also isolation.  You may be inside the circle or outside of it.  They also represent perfection and eternity; think of the halos of the saints.  In the context of mindfulness we can see them as representing the unity of everything.  We are all part of that much bigger circle of life in the universe, each fulfilling our individual roles as miniature cogs within the greater machine.

In design terms, circles are considered to be one of the primary shapes.  They are found both in nature and the manmade world.  Think of the sun, the moon, the natural tendency of a group of people asked to join hands to form a circle.  Think of the wheel; not just the wheels on a car but all the other wheels that make machines (and clocks!) tick.  Washers, pipes, tubes, coins; need I go on?  Circles (or arcs) are particularly strong as a structural shape, because the strain is distributed evenly along the curve.  Nature makes use of this strength in many ways; plant stems, tree trunks, bubbles and blood vessels to name just a few.

Circles are everywhere.  We discovered this on Tuesday when I set the group the task of photographing circles.  There were so many around the building that the question was not could you find a circle, but which circle did you want to make a photograph of most?  Once you start to look, circles are everywhere.  Decals on windows, writing on signs, the head of a nail affixing a piece of wood.  Circles in the patterns on the carpet, on scarves and musical instruments.  Yet before we set out to look for them, I wonder how many of them we had noticed?

One of the wonders of awareness is that wherever we direct it, we see (or hear, or taste) something new.  It is the nature of the mind to gloss over the less important in order to be able to manage the priorities and as a result we miss so much of what is around us.  By taking time to look we become more open to the richness of our world and can see it in its full glory.  We might start out snapping a picture here and there but soon we can become entranced by the beauty of the light, shadows and shapes that we are presented with and it matters not that these are everyday objects seen many times before.  We see them anew as things of beauty in their own right.  As Marcel Proust said:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

If you are interested in joining my class at Midlands Arts Centre, ‘Mindful awareness through yoga, meditation and photography’, click here to read more and sign up for the spring term starting January 2014.