In the 1930s, artist Grant Wood travelled around the world looking for something interesting to paint – but, he found nothing.
Instead, he returned home empty-handed and uninspired. He struggled to find beauty in spaces so extravagantly out of reach. It was as though he was just looking at a place, rather than being a part of it.
Soon after, he realised he favoured the finer components of everyday home life – such as, for example, the stitching on his mother’s apron. It became apparent that it was the smaller details around him that he found visually beautiful, and the familiarity of the hometown. It was the very fact that he had been away for so long that presented it in a different light.
We all tend to seek thrills by looking anywhere but directly around us. We think the mundane is boring. In contrast, we seem to idolise moving around the world, travelling through nations, swapping views and cultures, searching endlessly for that awe-inspiring image, scene or experience – and ideally, all these things.
Working on a level of acquaintance, we compose imagery by using obvious landmarks – this uniform attitude sadly ends up with a shot the same as every other enthusiastic tourist photograph. However, a place’s real identity can only be revealed by those who spend a long time there. When you know a space, it is like an old friend – there is an understanding of their inner secrets and corners. It is as though a place has a personality.Why search elsewhere when your own roots are more interesting? You are at an advantage, because you know the place inside out and know its heart.
A short time ago, at university and halfway through living in our student resident, I can recall pointing out to a housemate how you could see the city’s cathedral quite clearly and beautifully in the distance. She seemed surprised. She hadn’t, like many others, noticed what was right in front of her. Much later, she failed to believe there was anything more beautiful than the sight of the said cathedral wrapped in an early morning mist.
So, I dare you to look at your hometown in a different light. Look around you, not just the direction you’re travelling in. Look at the architecture above the high street shops, onto the vast beams of ageing wood – for there lies so much character. Wander through your countryside and embrace the tranquility of space. Appreciate even that which is as close to home as your very own living room; how you have adapted to the space and, in turn, changed its personality to entwine with yours.
Article by Emily Cotton