Why Am I So Often Blind To The Beauty In Front of Me?

Years ago, when money was especially tight and we didn’t have any “legitimate” reason to buy “real” art, I was captivated by a painting I saw hanging at our local library.

(Yet another thing I love about our town library – each month they feature a new artist. Rug hooking, watercolours, architectural photography, bold paintings by Indigenous artists; you name it, they’ve likely showcased it.)

Every display also contains a write-up about the artist and, on a whim, I decided to reach out about our favourite piece (by this point I had dragged John to the library to see her paintings, too). Imagine our delight to learn it was priced at $125.

Now, at the time, $125 still felt like a very big expenditure for something that was purely aesthetic. I’m sure we (okay, mostly me) hemmed and hawed, but we agreed to the price and the piece was soon hanging proudly in the living room of our tiny apartment. It mesmerized our babies and I loved to just stand and stare at the painting. I have always been captivated by the motion of ocean waves and the beauty and power represented in this piece remind me so much of our beloved Peggy’s Cove.

When we moved to our current house we couldn’t find the right “home” for this painting. It was too small for over the couch, not the right colour palette for the family room. Decisions, decisions.

So, temporarily, we settled on hanging it over the stairs leading into our basement. This ledge is visible from our kitchen and I walk down these stairs a dozen times a day. But here is the sad truth…

I never notice the painting anymore.

It’s right there in my line of sight, but my eyes never linger. It’s like the painting has become invisible. And that makes me sad.

How often something we love – be it a beautiful piece of art, the blooming tree in our front yard, a friend, spouse, or child – can be right in front of us, and yet we hardly take notice.

I think this is normal in many ways – but normal doesn’t mean we can’t battle against the status quo.

Here are two thoughts:

  1. The onus is on me to notice. The art doesn’t change; it’s always available to me. But I have to make myself available to appreciate it.
  2. Proximity matters. When something is relegated to a corner, it’s not going to get the attention it deserves.

So bring out the pretty china handed down by your mother, take the time to snuggle with your children, call your friend, frame and display your favourite poem, spend the extra 20 minutes on Saturday morning to linger over coffee with your spouse and look out at the tree in full bloom on your front yard.

And for goodness sake, let’s all move our favourite paintings (or plants or books or mugs or childhood figurines of Garfield if that’s what floats your boat) to a spot where we’ll see them every day. And then let’s open our eyes to the beauty that’s all around us – just waiting for us to take notice.

Because, as Mary Oliver writes: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.

I have to ask myself – am I paying attention to the right things?

Have you encountered this phenomenon in your own life? Any advice for how to celebrate the beauty that is accessible but often forgotten?

Header photo by Taelynn Christopher on Unsplash

21 thoughts on “Why Am I So Often Blind To The Beauty In Front of Me?”

  1. It’s interesting- I think position really matters here. You don’t notice the painting anymore because it’s kind of in a transitional spot- You walk down the stairs to the basement a dozen times a day, but you have a specific reason for going down there, so that area is a means to an end- not somewhere you would stop to contemplate anything. So the question is… have you moved the painting? Or do you stop at the top of the stairs now to appreciate it?
    I have another (completely off-topic) question for you. How do you find time to do your writing? You publish five long and thoughtful blog posts a week- do you have a daily schedule? I would love to hear what it is. I know you said your work hours can be erratic, so maybe this isn’t an easy question to answer. If you have a “typical” day I would love a “day in the life” post!

    1. I haven’t moved the painting (yet!) because I’m still not sure where to put it. And I’d like to say I stop every time I go downstairs and appreciate the painting…but I don’t. That said, I think I am 10% more aware of things in the last week or so since I’ve been mulling over this topic? And 10% isn’t nothing…
      Honestly, the same thing has happened with other things, too – like some prints I bought at a thrift store and had framed. They’re on the wall beside my bed and I love them, but never stop to look at all the beautiful detail in them.
      It feels somewhat unavoidable and, as humans, we’re hard-wired to keep seeking out novel things and that can make life exciting.
      It also feels like art is a bit harder problem to solve because it’s stationary.
      For years I just displayed my favourite candlesticks on a side hutch. This year I’ve been lighting candles in them every night at the table. I appreciate them SO much more because I’m using them. The same could be said for favourite books (re-read them) or inherited fine china (use it). But art…just hangs there.
      Some of it is position, and some of it is habituation. Maybe I need to move things around more regularly (like cycle art and other things to different areas in the house)?
      Great question about time. Of course I have lots of say on the topic, so dedicating a whole post to this is a great idea. I did a Day In The Life post back in October; things have changed slightly, but it gives you an idea of the rhythm of my days.
      A few Cole’s notes:
      1) I write in small pockets of time. I’ll fit in 20 minutes around lunchtime, 45 minutes after I put the kids to bed. I don’t have a set writing schedule, just when I have the time/inclination.
      2) After WANTING to do this for over a decade, since I’ve only been doing this for less than a year, I think the novelty is still really there for me. So it has become my hobby. Especially with such a rotten winter which means I’m inside a lot.
      3) I try to carve out a few hours in the weekend just for writing. This dedicated time is when I’m most “productive.”
      4) I write quick first drafts and then just pick away at editing. This has always been my method for any form of writing (from high school through to now). I love to get out very rough drafts quickly.
      5) I think I tend to be a fast writer? I skim books, I write quickly. It’s just in my nature (despite being a relatively slow, introverted type).
      6) My writing IS sporadic. I can work anywhere from 10-40 hours in a week and while I have some heads-up about what’s coming, it can be very hard to predict. I have a pretty big set of drafted posts, so while my posting can look consistent (5 post/week), my time spent writing is not necessarily the same week to week.

      Phew! A very long response, but fun questions, Jenny!

      1. So interesting, Elisabeth! So we are food opposites, and also writing opposites! hahaha! I think I have maybe pre-“drafted” a post….once? if that? in the almost 2 years I’ve been blogging. Meaning, if I sit down to write, I will type the post, read it over quickly/ do a very brief edit and then hit publish, all in one fell swoop. I am also very much a “mood” writer. For example, I have to be feeling the topic I’m writing about for that day. So I would find it very difficult to write a post on a certain topic I’m feeling NOW, and then not publish it until sometime next week. That feeling might have passed!! So then it would feel weird to me to publish it a different day. Does that make sense? I have to go with what is sort of “on my mind” in that moment, which then also feels like the right moment to publish it. But your blog (or some posts, anyway) tend to be more like “article style”, I’d say, about more neutral topics/how tos/advice/etc. that aren’t necessarily always really linked to a current day’s moment or event. So maybe that’s why it works for you to do it that way. Whereas I think mine is more like, rambling thoughts about the moment or whatever is happening or on my mind that day/the day before, etc….hence the need to “feel” the post and write/publish the same day. Anyway, great question Jenny- I’ve totally been wondering this too!! I was actually thinking, when on earth does Elisabeth do her actual job work?!?! These posts have to take forever to write!! hehehe!!! Thanks for answering that. 🙂

        1. Ha! I’m sure we could find lots of similarities if we dig hard enough!

          I 100% know what you know about mood. Sometimes I have published things on the same day because it feels “right.” And I think the fact that I tend to do “essay” style posts does mean I can be a little less “in-the-mood.” And it absolutely makes sense about finding it weird to publish something that was time or setting sensitive or when it’s no longer on your mind!

          I’ll write a bit more about this on Friday to clarify a bit more of how/when I write since I know most of the people that visit this site also have blogs and are fitting it in and around life, too!

      2. I went back and read that Day In The Life post- it was right before I started reading your blog so I missed it the first time. I’m always fascinated by other people’s regular daily schedules!

        1. I agree. It is fun to get a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. I’m always fascinated by how people structure their day (especially people that get up before 6 am. I just can’t fathom doing that).

  2. I am admittedly not great at noticing things around me. Like I am not a stop and smell the roses kind of person. I’m a fast walker and always on a mission, or that is how it feels. I’m always trying to maximize efficiency and that means I do not notice my surroundings. But having kids has really helped. When I take walks with them, we have to slow down and they notice more things and are enamored by things that wouldn’t necessarily attract my attention. Like Paul LOVES ducks so we will spend a lot of time watching ducks on the creek. I would never stop and look at the ducks if I was on my own. I’d glance at them and move on. But he forces me to stop and watch them!

    1. Kids definitely do change our perspective on what to pay attention to. I’m not good about slowing down and noticing things, either (though I’m very good at doing this in conversations; I tend to remember minutiae of what people say, sometimes even years later).

      I try not to be too hard on myself for not noticing. I wouldn’t say life is necessarily “better” when we notice things…but “richer.”

      1. I am the same way – I remember things that happened or aspects of conversations! Like I’ll remember that the last time I saw my dental hygienist she was hoping to go to Denver to visit her new niece. Or I recently got a steroid injection for an RA flare and I saw a PA that I hadn’t seen since half ways through my pregnancy. She is now pregnant and I said I remembered how she was debating whether to have another child. Meanwhile, she probably doesn’t even remember me seeing her back in 2020! She thought it was cool that I remembered that conversation, though. Or at least that is the vibe she gave off when I commented on what we talked about last time I saw her. It’s interesting the things people can reveal to you. I saw another PA in the practice SO MANY TIMES during my pregnancy with Paul and he shared that him and his wife had several miscarriages over the course of a year. So when I heard from my doctor that his wife was expecting I said something like, “oh I am so glad to hear that, especially after the miscarriages they had.” But the doctor didn’t know that they had miscarriages! I figured she would since they work really closely together. I also knew that my doctor had a really hard time getting pregnant and have IVF and that when she got pregnant it was basically their last chance at success (guessing it was their last embyro). Anyways, maybe the fact that I remember details from conversations and mention them when I see people again makes people more likely to share personal information!

        Anyways, this was a good reminder that I can pay attention to detail – just usually not in my environment. 😉

        1. Yes! I’m like this, too.
          It makes people feel valued to have their lives remembered. It comes naturally to me (to clue in to the minutiae people tell me), but I think it can be learned as well.
          Our hairdresser is a guru at this (as, I suspect, many hairdressers are) – she is SO good at remembering little details of things we used to say.
          When I boarded with Dot in university, I think the thing that ultimately endeared me to her was how well I paid attention to her endless discussions of her children, grandchildren and, eventually, great-grandchildren. It wasn’t hard work for me. I legitimately enjoyed learning about their lives and would then very naturally ask for updates, but I know it made her feel SO good.
          That said, I’m quite terrible at remembering dates, names, and phone numbers (I am good at remembering many people’s random birthday’s though, oddly enough).

  3. I hear you on the not seeing things that are there all the time. We have several paintings around the house which I won’t notice from one day to the next then suddenly one day I am drawn to looking, really looking (and being aware of that) Three or our paintings were painted by my grandfather, I am always reminded of him when I am having a noticing day.

    I guess it depends how important it is for you to be noticing and whether you want to be doing that all the time or now and then? Perhaps rather than thinking I haven’t been looking at this for a while, you think wow look at that painting and soak it up in that moment?

    Moving your art around is a sure fire way to notice them, my parents do this every few years. They take down all the paintings in their house and then work out new places for them all.

    I loved reading about your writing process in the comment above. I can take weeks to write one post so I know that I would never manage to write one post a day during the week! My process is very similar to yours, I have several that I am writing at the moment but I am not able to add to them every day so posting once a week and keeping up with reading other blogs (which I also don’t manage to do every day either) is good for me right now.

    1. Agreed on all points! I commented to someone else that I think we can go overboard with trying to “be in the moment” and notice things. I can catch myself really starting to detach from all the sensations when I’m out in nature on a walk, for example, though and when I take the time to notice I think life feels richer.
      It was just sad to me that I basically haven’t stopped to appreciate this painting I still love in almost 4 years. How sad!!
      I’ll write a bit more about my writing process on Friday because the question has come up in a few different forms lately and people seem to be curious how I fit different things into my day.

  4. this is so true. when we don’t see it often and close, we tend to forget. also when we see it often and close, we tend to get numb and stop appreciating it.
    I’ve never really bought a piece of art as I didn’t appreciate the creativity of the artist, but as I get older, I am changing and I feel it’s right to pay $$ for art that makes me feel. to think, to remind. I am actually commissioning a piece to a new artist that will remind me of the Philippines beaches.

    1. Commissioning art is such a great idea. I’ve only done this once (to get a painting done of my husband surfing), but it’s something I’d definitely consider again in the future!

  5. I feel like some strategic lighting might help in this case, but barring that or finding the perfect new spot to hang this beautiful painting, being intentional about appreciating beauty will go a long way!

    1. Lighting could definitely help; I’ve actually thought of adding in a picture lamp over that spot (it’s a bit dark heading into the basement anyway). Maybe I need to schedule 5 minutes into my planner each week to go appreciate a different piece of artwork in our house. Or 3 hours? There’s a famous art class (can’t remember where) and one of their first assignments is to go to a local museum, pick a piece of art, and look at it for something like 3 hours straight. Just that picture. It sounds like it can end up being almost life-changing for students because they start noticing so many nuances.
      Unlikely to happen in my house, but an interesting perspective on appreciating art!

  6. I had a very similar realization last week. I’m in a women’s group, and we meet twice each month (over lunch) for dessert. It was my turn to host the ladies, last Tuesday, and I was in a panic Monday evening because I had forgotten to get “fancy” paper plates (with matching napkins, LOL). I made a mental note to swing by the store, on the way to work Tuesday morning, and grab some plates to set out after I returned home for the dessert meeting. As I was preparing the dining room table with my three desserts, I happened to glance at the china cabinet RIGHT BEHIND ME and remembered I had a collection of “party sets” nestled in there. These are antique decorative glass plates, each with a matching glass coffee/punch cup. I never think to use these for anything, so I rescued them from hiding and used them for my get-together with the ladies. Hopefully, I will remember these little fancy plates/cups for my next gathering!

    1. Those plates sound lovely.
      I have a set of pottery bowls I love and never use. Your story is reminding me of them being hidden away in a cupboard. Time to bring them out!!

  7. It’s hard sometimes to pay attention to the details around you – I think it’s something that you can train yourself to do though.

  8. There is an interesting book that I have not purchased (but I do subscribe to the author’s newsletter) called The Art of Noticing. It is basically a “how to pay attention” kind of book. Suggestions for things to do so we become better at looking up, looking out, and seeing what is often right in front of us.
    My obliviousness sometimes scares me, honestly. I don’t tend to decorate, or move things around, or change much in my environment so things just become… background? If I am going to stay in this apartment at least three more years, perhaps I should think about… hanging something on the wall? (Seriously, nothing there right now…)
    That said, your painting is in a place that is relatively easy to not see. I would be looking down, scared of falling down the stairs if I shifted my attention up, if I were on your stairs. I would also probably be thinking about 20 other things (a whole ‘nother problem…) and that makes me miss stuff right in front of my nose! 🙂

    1. That sounds like such a great book! I went and put it on hold through my library. I’ll report back once I’ve received/read the book.
      I really think that different people respond differently to aesthetics/details. I know people that could walk in to a room painted in zebra stripes and they’d barely notice BUT they can remember dates or names or someone’s occupation.
      For me, I’m more disappointed because I’m missing out on things that are right in front of me THAT I ENJOY. I love art. I truly do (where other people can be ambivalent to it…which is totally fine, of course).
      Yes, the painting is in an obscure place. It didn’t “feel” obscure when we picked that location, but in reality, it is. Maybe other people notice it? I wonder. It’s still there because there just isn’t another logical place for it right now, but it’s definitely not the best spot for it. We’ll see how long it takes me to move it elsewhere?!

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