Monday, November 11, 2013

Hogarth and the Art of Messy Chic

William Hogarth (1697-1764) understood what it meant to really inhabit a room. In his paintings, he shows ordinary people enjoying their personal spaces in a manner that can only be described as -- shall we say -- "soulful." Beds are left unmade, chairs are toppled on their sides, tablecloths are wine-bespattered, and there's usually at least one person so brutally hungover they can barely sit up straight. This is the world of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker -- unbridled, sensuous and flagrantly alive.

I love it.

This is what rooms are for, people. For living in. Leafing through design magazines it's easy to get the impression that a house should be perfect. But trying to be perfect is a losing proposition because there's no endpoint -- you'll never reach it. (I speak as an ex-perfectionist.) 
("Marriage a la Mode: The Tete a Tete", 1743)

In a Hogarth painting, tables aren't for sitting primly at--they're for leaning on, eating on, gambling on, putting feet on and sometimes drooling on. They may be spread with white tablecloths, but they're usually stained. Chairs are for perching on sideways, scooching across the room, or teetering backwards on so no one else can see your cards. Okay, maybe his characters push the line a little, but erring on the side of messiness is better than living  in a room that doesn't accommodate any degree of personal freedom, don't you find?

A perfect room intimidates. It foists an unspoken question upon the visitor: "Can you live up to me?" I actually know of a home where nothing but clear-colored drinks are served. Perhaps it works for the people who live there, but I feel strongly that our personal spaces should be a judgment-free refuge, and if there's no room allowed for human error -- or comfort, for that matter -- I think I would unlock the front door every night with a heavy heart.  
("Marriage a la Mode: The Settlement", 1743)

A home should be lived in, not worshipped. So the floors get scuffed. So the furniture gets worn. So the tables get scratched. So what? Why do you think chefs reach for their favorite seasoned cast-iron pan and not a new teflon one when they want to cook something that's got their heart and soul in it? That's right -- because the cast-iron one is a repository of all the love that's been inside it. Your house is no different.

So make it interesting.
Make it creative.
Make it loud.
Make it convivial and filled with laughter and ideas and crazy plans and dream projects and anything else that gets your heart pounding faster.

And for Hogarth's sake, make it messy.

("The Orgy", 1735)

Editor's Note: 
Stare at one of Hogarth's paintings long enough and you can practically HEAR it -- a polyglot cacophony of laughter, grunts and high-pitched squeals. If you want to hear the way I think the above painting would sound if it came to life, click HERE.

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