Ordinary Art


The embellishment of life, the greatest domestic art of making people happy and beautiful places, also includes the adornment of the soul. Since life’s more than work, economics, and money, the life of the heart and spirit need constant replenishment. What do decorating a room, wearing tasteful garments, expressing cheerfulness, offering friendship, enjoying Mayday, taking a vacation, and cultivating the regular virtues of patience, friendliness, and kindness all have in common? What do a bare, plain room, an unkempt appearance, a surly demeanor, an environment without flowers, a life of work with no leisure, and a murmuring disposition all share in common? Just as a room can be clean, but drab, a persons appearance proper, but unattractive, persons moral, but unpleasant, a life useful, but joyless, so human life needs to be more than utilitarian, functional, practical, and economic.

The art of happiness requires the present of beautifying everyday life with the graceful touches that decorate rooms, select elegant clothing, bring joy to other lives, create hospitable social occasions, and cultivate the manners that create harmony and affability in human relationships. Daily life can be a Mayday of beautiful flowers of great variety and splendid colour, or it may be a dreary existence that’s colorless and lackluster. In Louisa May Alcotts Jack and Jill, the main events of the novel describe the rhythms of daily life for families in a New England village and the experience of young women and men in early adulthood going to school.

Ordinary life, of course, extends beyond work, responsibilities, and studies. Social life, fun, sledding adventures, game parties, picnics, Christmas celebrations, vacations, and the visits of buddies also fill the day with cheer and capture the goodness of simple pleasures. The novel describes the ways that daily experience radiates an aura of the beautiful and the pleasing that enhances the joy of living. In one of the early chapters of the novel, however, a sledding accident occurs that results in serious injury to Jack and Jill who lie bedridden for months as their bone fractures heal plus they suffer the interruption of their normal lives.

Deprived of the company of their buddies and classmates and feel like birds in a cage, Jack and Jill long to resume their daily life of work and play and also to be busy at home and school with friends. For, as Alcott writes, Daily duties and studies are the healthy bread which feeds the mind better than the dyspeptic plum cake of sensational reading, or the unsubstantial bons of frivolous amusement. The novel shows that daily life can decline in gray monotony or be full of vibrant liveliness. Whether daily life remains plain or grows beautiful depends upon the art of living that Alcott calls the household art, the ability to make people happy and beautiful places.

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