7 Tips for Bringing the Pleasure of Art into Everyday Life.

An appreciation for art is one of the transcendent values of life, and a great source of happiness, but like many transcendent values, it can sometimes be hard to wedge into your ordinary day.

Here are some tips for getting some visual art into your daily routine, without spending a lot of time, energy, or money.

1. Check out art books from the library. Art books are very expensive, but at the library, you can enjoy as many as you want, for free.

2. Here’s a brilliant suggestion from a reader: When she’s at a museum, she buys postcards of her favorite works of art. She keeps a big stack of these masterpiece postcards, and from time to time, puts a new bunch in the sun visor of her car. When she’s stuck in traffic, she pulls them out and looks at them.

3. Enjoy picture books. We tend to look at picture books only when we’re around very young children, but picture books can be such a source of joy. I wrote a series of posts for the New York Times Motherlode blog about my love of picture books.

4. Don’t feel like you have to spend hours in a museum.  My family has become members of several museums, so we can visit as often as we like, and for as long or as short a time as we like, without having to pay extra. I find that I like visiting museums much more when I go often, and for a short time.

5. Treat a a store like an art gallery. Visit some outrageously exquisite store, or even a department store or hardware store, without the expectation of purchase–just to enjoy the items there. Added bonus: in a store, you can touch and handle objects. A few months ago, I spent a good five minutes running my hands over a fake-fur throw during a trip to Bloomingdale’s. Extremely satisfying.

6. Make something yourself. There’s a great pleasure in making something by hand–even something as basic as sticking cloves into an orange to make a pomander ball. During high school, I made dozens of pomander balls. Find out something you’d like to make, and set aside time and space to do it.

7. Use sites like Pinterest or Instagram. It’s funny–one way of laying claim to a beautiful object is to take a photograph of it. Taking photos of beautiful sights, or “pinning” them, is a very satisfying way to engage with the world, and then you can look back with great pleasure on all your images. Your own gallery. (You can follow me on Pinterest and Instagram, if you’re curious to see what I’m choosing.)

What other strategies do you use to bring the pleasure of visual art into your everyday life?

  • peninith1

    To #4 I would add ‘don’t feel like you have to see everything in the museum!” I worked in Washington, D.C. for some time, near DuPont Circle. I used to walk to the Phillips Gallery at lunch time and sit for a half hour with Renoir’s magnificent and very happy painting ‘The Boating Party.’ It was summer in winter, holiday in the work-day, playfulness amid seriousness, and light, light, light. I occasionally looked at other things, but time with this one great painting, often uninterrupted by other people, was a true gift that I will never forget. I found this ‘choose one or two things and really experience them’ to be a good rule even in big shows that were very crowded with visitors. I have been able to keep the impressions alive in my mind for many years afterward. I also have quite a vivid memory of a painting of workers scraping a floor by Caillebot in a HUGE show of Impressionist works, and a single, small watercolor by Turner that took my breath away. Quality over quantity is a hard decision to make when you have limited time, but I do think that depth and stillness of attention to one or a few things repays you in later years.

    • gretchenrubin

      The wonderful thing about DC is that so many of the museums are free. When I worked near that Mall I could just dip in during my lunch hour. Great.

  • Yvonne

    we also buy postcards/art cards of favourite art work in museums gift shops and we have a staircase art gallery that we change almost monthly with favourite art cards and photos all in the same sized 5×7 frames hung horizontally or vertically – it’s an ever changing smorgasboard based on seasons, themes, etc. :~)

    • Rebecca

      Totally awesome idea!

    • gretchenrubin

      Such a good idea!

  • Art in the everyday is a theme of my life. Music, flowers on the table, the best shape for the sugar bowl, a lovely scarf, a great tattoo, small objects like a tin flower someone gave me, soft colorful quilts and an array of photographs of my family at their most entertaining or greatest moments are ways I express my love life as art.

  • Linda Davidson

    I reconnected with my college friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Matisse show. When I go to the Met I love the big open spaces. I feel like get to travel without leaving New York. I saw Egypt at the Temple of Dundar and even went to France! When I go to MOMA I live to sit in the Monet’s water lillies room. I find these paintings touch the depths of my soul. Congratulations on being on the best sellers list for 100 weeks. So much good advice to so many! Be proud! Enjoyed meeting you at the book launch.

    Linda Davidson

  • Jennifer Hope Webster

    wow…great ideas on being happy …thank you!

  • rachel

    my mum and uncle used to exchange art calendars every Christmas and then she kept the pictures and every month we were allowed as a special treat to select a picture for a frame we had. When I was in my undergraduate year we had slide shows for the art course and I realized I recognised nearly all the paintings as old friends.

  • Karen

    I have checked out from the library “The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World”. It is a beautiful book and includes the New York Public Library. And when I am done, I will take it back to the library.

  • Rebecca

    Give your children the best art supplies – start with something affordable, like the best eraser, pencil and smudger. Work up to the best markers and paper, then paints. Send them to art classes — and then you will have beautiful art to display in your home. Your children will feel valued and motivated to continue artistic skill development.

  • diana

    I just got the app Art Authority for my ipad. 60,000 works of art (they say) arranged by artist. I’ve been sharing my favorite artists with my kids.

    • gretchenrubin


  • Molly

    Wow, great ideas in this blog and the comments. I would never have thought of many of these myself, but want to try all of them! I haven’t been to an art museum in a while, and I really need to do that with my son soon.

  • Marianne Austin Williams

    Always good ideas and food for thought here, Gretchen. And thanks for the mention of Nat the Fat Rat. I spent all afternoon reading her blog. It’s lovely.

  • Rosie

    I bought my husband a book of photographs of NYC for his birthday. We display it on a cookbook stand in the entrance to our house. Everyday we flip to a new picture and get to see it and enjoy every time we pass through the hallway.

  • I could have written this myself. I do ALMOST all of these things on a regular basis, and can attest to the fact that YOU ARE RIGHT! I’m behind on Pinterist…and was into instagram at the beginning and then dropped out because I was too busy. But, in the case both, I plan to go back and explore.

  • Esther

    I heard of an app for iPhones called Daily Art – sends a push notification of a piece of art, with some info to read up on it. I just need to update to IOS6 before I can download it.

  • KK

    I put a nice piece of artwork as the picture on my desktop on my computer at work and change it every few weeks or son. My workmates seem to enjoy it when they pass by my desk also.

  • Dorcas

    I buy a new art postcard whenever I visit an art gallery or art museum and use them as book marks. Every time I open the current book I’m reading, I get to study the artwork I fell in love with and remember the outing, too.

  • Lix Hewett

    I buy postcards at museums too, love going through them. Some day I’d like to put them all up in a mosaic.

    If you like art rather than big names, you should check out the art section on Etsy – there are so many talented artists there, and many sell prints of their work at affordable prices! I’m a fine art photographer at lixhewettphotography.etsy.com and I’m actually working on a clothing/accessory line featuring fabric printed with my original photography – I’m taking the concept of bringing art into my everyday life to heart! http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lhp-clothing-line/x/3039681

  • Amy C. Lund

    Live artfully by thinking more about the objects around you, how your interact with them and appreciate them. Art is not just painting or sculpture, can be the simplest, well-crafted item you use every day that is aesthetically pleasing and suits it’s purpose!