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Truth and Beauty: What’s Your Style Worth?

October 22, 2009

From left: Flickr photos by lakeborgne and Jayme 28

From left: Flickr photos by lakeborgne and Jayme 28

Guest Post by Katie Elzer-Peters of Garden of Words

Turn on the Today Show at 9:00, sharp, and you’ll be treated to their daily “Wise Money” (or something like that) segment. Even Vogue magazine has sections on shopping thrift. For Vogue, that means spending $200 instead of $600 on jeans, but for some of their readers, that’s economizing. Gardeners, writers, and media types blog constantly about how to garden, decorate, gift, and exist without spending any money, or very little. That’s all well and good. However, most of the ideas forwarded to the public involve gardening with whatever is around-beauty or not. That’s perfectly fine, depending upon your aim: Need to grow food, fast, without benefit of special equipment? Want flowers to grace your table, but you’re low on cash? Need just a bit of green and life outside your balcony? Cuttings, rooted in takeout Chinese soup containers will do the trick. But, there still must be room for art.

During this recession, I think there has been a race to the bottom of design taste and a whole-hearted embrace of dull. And, I ask the question: is that race to the bottom really necessary? And, is it good for the bottom line? The future of gardening? I would argue, no.

The Invention of Lying


Bowl made from recycled washers

A couple of events precipitated this blog. 1) I had a conversation with Jayme Jenkins, owner of aHa! Modern Living about the place of pretty garden products in the current economy, and 2) I went to see the movie The Invention of Lying, written by and starring Ricky Gervais. Jayme and I discussed a feeling of unease after reading many different gardening blogs lately. The militant stance regarding “the way to garden,” on many blogs seems to look down on the spending of actual money on anything. Money is, in our opinion, portrayed as the root of all evil, particularly in gardening and garden marketing. A weird thing to ponder if you own a garden shop, no?

Here’s where Lying comes in. I liked the movie. It provided much food for thought. In particular, I noticed the lack of art in the sets. Drab colors, no paintings, no movies, no novels. Movies are simply scripts describing actual events, read by on-screen personalities (though that word seems a bit strong), sitting in velvet easy chairs. The conceit posits that “making art” means “making things up” which means “lying.” So, there’s no art. There’s only dreary reality. No metaphor, no finger paintings, no stained glass windows that look like the ocean. I would hate to live in a world without art.

I’ll Buy This but not That

When I worked at the Smithsonian for a summer, my favorite museum to visit was the Hirshorn.  It’s the modern art museum.  The East Gallery of the National Gallery of Art, with its gigantic Calder mobile was a close second.  I can’t even count how many times I heard people walk up to a Rothko panting and say “Dude.  It is a canvas painted red.  I could have done that.”  The point is, dude, that you didn’t do it.  You could do it now, because somebody else thought of it.

Why are we so “OK” with paying for a plumber, or a winter coat, or a bottle of shampoo, but not OK with  wanting something pretty-like a bird bath made by someone other than yourself, out of something other than an old casserole dish super-glued to an old CD rack?  For some artists, the lucky few, art is their work.  When I buy a painting from a local artist, I’m supporting the hard work that she does to inspire the rest of us.  Yes, we all could live without art and inspiration, but I would argue that inspiration is just as essential to our existence as is water.

Picture Worth a Thousand Words

fish-paintingWhen I worked at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC, I put together the first “Green Day,” a celebration of art and the environment in honor of Minnie Evans.  She was a folk-artist and gatekeeper at the garden for many years.  Much of her art featured nature themes, and her most widely known quote is “God has over 400 shades of green.”  Throughout the day, I kept coming back to this painting at an artist’s booth.  It was like a magnet.  In no way could I really afford it.  So, I kept visiting it during the festival.  Shortly before closing, the artist said to me “How much can you pay?”  I named a price.  She agreed.  I took it home.

Three months later, I had quit my job, left the career for which I’d been preparing for years, and embarked on an entirely different career as a freelance writer.  One day, I turned the painting over to write down the artist’s name. On the back was the title, which I hadn’t noticed before:  Against the Grain.  When I bought it, I didn’t know what was ahead.  But, something about the art spoke to a storm brewing deep inside of me.

Cost and Worth and Value

Bangle Bracelets made from recycled flip flops

Bangle Bracelets made from recycled flip flops

The price of something is but one measure of its value in someone’s life.  The cost doesn’t have to indicate the value.  When you purchase the metal washer bowl from 180 design, pictured above, you’re buying a few dollars worth of recycled washers.  You’re paying for the artist’s creativity.  In the race to working with the least expensive materials, we need not sacrifice taste and design.  People like pretty things.  Those formerly not interested in gardening, but who like design, or an attractive living space will be more likely to become involved if the process is aesthetically pleasing, eco-friendly and affordable.

For the time being, the people most prolifically innovating with recycled materials are the artists.  Their scale of production necessitates higher prices.  If those who can embrace the creativity and inspiration from these artists, others will follow, and what is now elevated as art will become, simply, everyday.  And all of our lives will be the richer, and greener, for it.

Katie Elzer-Peters is a freelance writer and owner of The Garden of Words, L.L.C. She gardens, surfs and reads in Wilmington, North Carolina.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009 4:07 pm

    I’m so with you. I think that there is always room for beauty, art and design – and those words are large and encompassing. Beautiful things, be they plants, paintings or a plate made of washers, bring sweetness to the world – sometimes in small ways, but also sometimes in huge, seismic waves.

  2. personalgardencoach permalink
    October 22, 2009 7:33 pm

    I like the fact that you made me look at an investment in art in a whole new way. Thank you for that. I had never thought about the price and worth of creativity. Funny that as I price things that I make, I have thought about the pure value of the “thing” itself and not the value that it brings to my life.

  3. October 24, 2009 10:58 am

    Ladies-thank you for visiting! And, for your comments. I love to dialogue. Hopefully, it helps each of use treat ourselves better!

  4. December 2, 2009 5:10 pm

    I’m with you all the way…but I think that it’s more like boyfriends who tend to lower the bar on garden/interior decor…am I wrong?Mine thinks Meiers is all you need…sniff…

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