The beautiful and essential art of the ‘useless’

© Michael Leunig


There is a lot of pressure on us these days to be ‘extraordinary’ and to get the best from ourselves. But what does this actually mean? It suggests that we should constantly be striving to be better, with the implication that we should be aiming to be in a different place from the one we currently occupy.

I write often about ways in which we can ‘live our best lives’. And I guess that this too might imply a push for change. But that need not be the case. Sure, there are times when we can recognise that our lives would be improved in some way if we were to take a different approach. But I am also a huge fan of ‘ordinary happiness’. In other words, I believe passionately that it is ok for us to find pleasure in the everyday, to look around us and really see the beauty in everything.

“Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self.” ~ Iris Murdoch

Creativity is, for me, a vital contributor to this ethos. Making my own things, be that through knitting, crochet or any other endeavour is amazingly satisfying and fulfilling, even where the finished item serves no purpose whatsoever. I occasionally dabble in ‘zentangle’ pictures. These mini artworks are nothing more than black and white lines on a small canvass. Yet this process provides a way of switching off, relaxing and focusing only on the task in hand. I do nothing with the pictures other than allow myself to feel immeasurably pleased with the result. I love the way in which the overall images seem to undulate around the page.

The art of Zentangle © Liz Humphreys


Below is a short film showcasing another fascinating example of ‘useless’ art giving pleasure. Bruce Gardner produces ‘shiny spheres of mud’ through his practice of Hikaru Dorodango. Even just watching someone else create something beautiful can be restorative. But of course, it is always open to us to give it a try. If you fancy having a go yourself, here’s a step by step guide. 🙂


12 thoughts on “The beautiful and essential art of the ‘useless’

  1. What you describe sounds to be like the way our society and even, I daresay, humanity is so focused on the left hemisphere way of thing and being, to the point that we are in an imbalance. The things you describe that centre you and the beautiful mud ball creations are a way of that bringing that other rich hemisphere and way of being back towards balance. It comes from the heart, not the head. Creating is often at its most satisfying and magical when thinking is paused, allowing ourselves to be in the flow of that which is seeking expression from within. I love your Zentangle Liz! Practice more of it I say, and listen for the voice of intuition that creeps through when we aren’t actively thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you creativity is a huge source of happiness and satisfaction. Again I do believe in ordinary happiness, like in the cartoon of Michael Leunig. Many routine tasks of life can make happy , as we often don’t do it consciously we don’t even notice the feeling. Happiness comes from the heart! Reading your post makes me happy Liz. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a profound post, Liz–we don’t have to do more and better all the time! Now, having said that, I do have to admit that I want the things I make to be useful, somehow–that’s what makes me happy. I tried zentangle once, at a quilt guild meeting, and loathed it! But, isn’t that part of the point you’re making? We find our happiness and it is ours, no one else’s, and we should acknowledge it, and follow it.

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  4. I love this post and the insightful comments that follow it. I know I have responses of my own to add, and yet I’m struggling for the words to express them – and the reason for that is because I’m not allowing the time which would enable what I’m thinking and feeling to settle softly into coherence. It seems to me that those sources of creativity that you describe, Liz, and the amazing mud ball process, are ways of spending time engrossed in process – with pleasure in both the process and the outcome rather than just one or the other. There doesn’t have to be a use for the finished article (though it’s a bonus if there is). For me at the moment, my greatest satisfaction comes from writing – from working to get the right words in the right order to express what I’m feeling in a way that feels right to me.

    But my point here really, is that I think ‘time’ plays a crucial role in either depriving us or enabling us when it comes to everyday happiness: both to creativity and to all the myriad small tasks to be done to get through the day. We have to feel able to allow the time – to accord sufficient importance and value to whatever the task is so that we can take satisfaction from it. We have to step aside from always wanting to be thinking of the next task. Time, presence, creativity….

    I’ve taken a bit of time putting these words together and it’s made me happy. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sandra, thank you so very much for taking the time and trouble to craft this thoughtful comment. I’m delighted that the original post has generated such a range of interest from everyone.

      I completely agree with you about the process being the key element, with the outcome, whatever form it takes, a bonus. The crafting of words is a fascinating art form isn’t it, and so very rewarding when given the time and space in which to switch off from the every day and really think about words as individual building blocks, as well as their effect as a group.

      I’m so happy that contributing to this discussion has made you happy – nothing useless about that! 🙂 xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a wonderful post – both Don and I read it at Starbucks yesterday. The idea of a perfect circle, the way in which care is taken in every step of production,the thoughts that come in the midst of creating – leads to reflections that allow moments to become timeless. Everyone will have a unique definition of creativity, but one thing that is universal: the satisfaction of being alive. Much love coming from my side of the world to yours… See you in April.

    Liked by 2 people

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