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David and Art - A Café with Hanging Baskets

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

When we’re confronted by the materialism of today’s culture, any little glimmer of hope is cause for celebration.

I was sitting in a café the other day, looking out through basically a wall of windows facing the street. Underneath the awning all along the front there were hanging baskets with flowers in them. Every other basket hung about 6-8 inches lower or higher than the one beside it, so you had an up-down, up-down, up-down kind of pattern across. The flowers were very pretty on their own. And then I started thinking why have they done this this way? Why had they gone to the trouble of stepping the baskets up and down with hangers of two different lengths? Then I realized it was an artistic gesture. By which I mean this: It was done for aesthetic impact. It made the line of baskets across the front of the café look more interesting

Hanging baskets doesn’t qualify as art but when something is done primarily for aesthetic effect, art is involved. But more than that It speaks to our innate desire to have elements in our lives that are visually interesting.

It’s a feeling we don’t quite follow up on well enough to consider the ramifications. But it’s an interesting element to consider in the face of our aggressively materialistic society. We demand practicality, or at least we like to think we do. We want measurable results from efforts that contribute clearly to the bottom line. Anything else is a distraction. We want practical education. Will alternating the heights of the hanging baskets sell more pancakes?

Against this stolid certainty, it’s hard for the arts to make headway.

I remember a few years ago on a Sunday morning as I listened to a fine orchestra play a hymn I started wondering where tomorrow’s oboe players are going to come from. In the newspaper column I was writing back then I asked “Why on earth would a young person in so materialistic a culture as ours devote the time and effort required to master an instrument?

Thankfully, the wisdom of youth is not completely squelched by the shortsightedness of materialism. So we still manage to have oboe players, history majors and all those other inquisitive creative souls who somehow manage to do something as countercultural as pick up a book, a paintbrush, or a musical instrument. But sometimes the rank conformity is discouraging to those who want the arts to flourish.

For those people, anything that speaks of an interest in creativity can be a reason to take heart. And right now, whether the people who own the Table Talk Cafe realize it or not, a decision they made about how to hang their begonias gives me a little bit of hope.