The Art of Living Creatively on a Budget!

Welcome to the first installment of ArtsEverydayLiving. I’m Joan Hart, author of Through An Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Living Creatively and every month you’ll discover new ways to incorporate the arts into your life. (P.S. See more about us on

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It can’t be avoided these days, the state of the economy.  We’re in a recession, definitely.  Let’s not even think about a depression.

Whether you are affected directly or indirectly financially, the appreciation of a work of art is inexpensive, if not downright cheap.  You may not be able to afford to purchase a Van Gogh (have an extra $100 million or so?), but you can certainly enjoy a Sunflowers or two plus just about all of Vincent’s known creations.

Vase with Sunflowers

Vase with Sunflowers

Vase with Sunflowers, 1888

How?  It’s easy. First, you can go to an art museum if one is close by.  Here’s a photo of a “great date” recently taken at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (The couple is at the Edward Munch exhibition.)

Although I know art museums’ fees can be a little steep these days, I’m fortunate because I live in the Washington, D.C. area where most of the museums are free. I am a member of the Phillips Collection (which has the most sublime Renoir in the world—-The Luncheon of the Boating Party!) that does charge.  For about $50 annually, I can go to the museum as many times as I wish and get a discount at the gift shop as well as other perks.

Luncheon at the Boating Party

Luncheon at the Boating Party

Luncheon of the Boating Party 1880-81

However, and this is the message of my book, Through an Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Live Creatively, you DO NOT have to go to an art museum to have art be part of your life.  Because the spirit of art is within you and you can develop your own inner creativity.

For everyone is born an artist.  Your artistic soul just gets lost or let’s say mislaid along the way.  Picasso, the super artist of the last century, recognized that when visiting a children’s art exhibition.  “When I was their age I could draw like Raphael.  But it took me a lifetime to draw like them.”

Portrait of Picasso

Portrait of Picasso

You don’t have to actually paint or draw or sculpt, creating a tangible work of art.  But you can see through an artist’s eyes, and apply your vision to your everyday cycle of living.

All you really need is a book; that’s how I experience a work of art most of the time.  I know art books can be expensive, but most of us are lucky enough to have a library in our area.  Or you can buy a book that you want to add to your own collection at a second hand book store or at a discounted rate through  You can certainly go onto the internet too where you’ll discover millions of artists, both past and present.

I personally like to hold an art book in my hands.  I know some of them are big and clumsy, but I just have fun turning the pages slowly and relishing each image.  A small act, perhaps, but it is meaningful to me.  Maybe it is also an escape—a mental and emotional journey away from responsibilities and cares.

When I was searching for a job after I graduated from college, I took some art history books out of my local library.  It was a tiny library, but I found some special volumes on Kandinsky, Constable, and an artist I was not familiar with, Kupka. They were beautiful books with colorful and vivid illustrations that I will always remember.  Why? Possibly because they comforted me during a period of both personal and economic uncertainty.

However, looking at a work of art is just the beginning! You can choose from an infinite variety of artistic companions from genius Leonardo da Vinci to the ever popular Monet, the Japanese master Hiroshige to African American Jacob Lawrence.  Don’t forget sculpture, architecture, video and computer art, etc., etc., etc.

Then look….see…..

For instance, are you feeling that the four walls of your house, apartment, or office, are crowding in on you?  Then, look out your window.  I can guarantee you that something will revitalize you.  Currently my yard is parched dry, suffering the agonies of a long drought.  It has been a terrible, hot summer.  But the crepe myrtle bush has survived.  Last winter it was almost flattened by a ton of snow, pressed down temporarily into the icy ground.

Now, it’s gloriously red—scarlet actually—a miracle, vibrating with the intense color of the early Modern artist, Henri Matisse (1869-1954).  He was always looking out his window, capturing the view wherever he might be: Paris, its suburbs, along the sea, or on his travels, from New York to Tahiti.

Harmony in Red, Matisse, 1908-09

Of course, you might have an uninspiring wall greeting you (I’ve had that experience myself). I wouldn’t be discouraged.  Watch the way the light transforms your wall as the day progresses.  It might not be easy to discern at first, but don’t give up.  The play of light and shadow can be fascinating; artists from Rembrandt to Andrew Wyeth have spent their careers trying to capture that natural phenomenon.

An American artist, Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was obsessed with portraying light and shadow, both inside and outside.  His most famous painting, Night Hawks, is a classic, in which he immortalizes the power of electricity in our lives.



Nighthawks, 1942

Yet, he also concentrated on the effect of light and shadow on the walls of one room, probably his, in two mysterious paintings, Rooms by the Sea and Sun in a Empty Room.


Sun in an Empty Room, 1963

Sun in an Empty Room, 1963

Woman with a Pitcher, c. 1664-1665

Woman with a Pitcher, c. 1664-1665


But you might prefer a little more furniture in a painting.  So why not spend some time with Vermeer (1632-1675), the seventeenth century Dutch artist who was never bored with the mundane.  In fact, he loved recreating basically the same interior over and over: the elaborate carpet, the large map of Holland, the velvet chair, the worn jewelry box, all glowing in rich color and crystal clear light.

So why not look at your favorite room with enlightened eyes; even that old bedspread might seem like new.

For seeing through an artist’s eyes costs you nothing—except your imagination.

All the above images are presented for purely educational purposes.