From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Excellence of the Ordinary

The beauty of the typical


Last winter, I read It's Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See It from Here: Tales of the Great Plains, a book of stories about small town life in central Nebraska. What a good book! I enjoyed it immensely because I grew up in rural Nebraska, because the stories are entertaining, and because they contain truths, wisdoms, and observations about life that resonate with me.

The author is Roger Welsch of Dannebrog, Nebraska, whom you may remember from the series, "Postcards from Nebraska" on the CBS News Sunday Morning television show. He is a native of Nebraska, born, raised, and educated in Lincoln. His primary area of study, teaching and writing is folklore. He's the author of about two dozen books, many of them about rural life in Nebraska. I intend to read more of them.

The following passage from the introduction to It's Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See It from Here: Tales of the Great Plains  has returned to my mind many times since I read it.  I decided to look it up and share it with you.

My academic training and most of my teaching experience was in folklore, so I learned quite early in my intellectual history to appreciate, to appreciate profoundly the importance, the charm, the beauty, and the value of the typical. That's what folklore is. While the university art departments dwell on the exceptional and unique, the history departments focus on the significant and singular, the English departments examine the best, we in folklore are interested in what represents the typical, the ordinary, the everyday.

The ballet is not typical; the small-town wedding dance is. The events of a Harlequin romance or a soap opera are anything but everyday; the gossip and anecdotes told over the breakfast table in the cafe in Centralia are precisely everyday; they are indeed the very definition of "everyday." Is the everyday of less value or attraction than the exceptional? That has most certainly not been my experience. Nor, probably yours. Virtually every homemade quilt you have ever seen, for example, is superior by many times to 90 percent of the art that currently insults the walls of the galleries. We have all at one time or another, perhaps on a regular basis, eaten roast beef, mash potatoes, and gravy in a humble kitchen that put to shame the finest gourmet meal we have ever enjoyed. Medical science still sorts through folk medicine for the truths it may yet have in its pharmacopoeia.

Source: Welsch, Roger. It's Not The End of the Earth, But You Can See It From Here: Tales of the Great Plains. New York: Villard Books, 1990. (See pp. xiv-xv).

Here, Welsch is describing the focus of folklore studies, but that's not what I remembered. What stuck with me was the truth that many great masterpieces never become famous. They're created by ordinary people in the course of their ordinary lives. We should recognize and treasure these common works of art for the precious jewels that they are.

Image by Molly DG. Some Rights Reserved.

And I wish to add that some of the best music is made on the back porches and in the living rooms of very ordinary people -- and in rural and small-town churches, too. I remember with pleasure many examples of fine, homemade music.

3 comments:

Stitchy Mc Floss said...

I just love your post! I agree 100 percent with everything.

The best meals I have ever had were all made with love by the people I knew.

I have never seen a painting in any gallery that could ever match the beauty of a homemade quilt. Each stitch made with love. Nor will you ever sleep so soundly as when you are covered by the warmth and love of a homemade quilt.

Life is in the details, and it is also in the ordinary day to day things we do, make, share with each other. Homemade to me is the best, because it means that someone put their heart and love into making it.

Thanks for such a great post.

Blessings always :)

Genevieve said...

Stitchy, I agree. Love often adds an extra dimension of beauty to homemade items, and perhaps we sense that when we look at them, even when we do not know the maker personally.

Fred said...

A great Blog, many of us don't appreciate the typical, and think we are sophisticated when
we are exposed to the exceptional...... Fred

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.