Pictures and desires

I have often wondered why people put up pictures  on their walls. Especially scenery. What it is that makes them desire a bit of the outside world onto this vertical surface that signifies a boundary, a separation of the house from the very world that the picture represents?

The wall separates the house from the vagaries of climate, from the harshness of unknown elements in nature, from the adversities of a public space. Yet, a wild countryside under a stormy moon or a set of green bamboo plants against a marshy pond will decorate a living room. A sharp jagged edge of a cityscape will be hung above the bed. A vase full of nice flowers will be carefully perched above the breakfast counter. A sketch of two children holding hands and walking into the distance will be placed next to the staircase. A piece of abstract art that looks like a lighted cafe will remain perched on the wall in a dark corridor.

Pictures of people on the wall used to be very common several decades ago. They are not anymore. Perhaps that impetus to remember old times used to be enhanced by the novelty of the medium of the still photograph that came within the common person’s reach. That novelty is no more. Or perhaps  the ubiquitousness of still pictures has made our interest in specific shots depicting specific moments  wear off.

But as far as non-people pictures are concerned, such as landscapes, buildings, city streets and houses, I’ve often wondered why people put them up.

"Classical - Plain" Photo Frame #789
(Photo credit: photoframeshow)

There is often a contrast between the real surroundings of a place and the pictures on the wall. A place surrounded by concrete buildings with hardly any view may have a picture of a forest full of trees on the wall. A deserted place in the country may have the picture of the nearest hamlet. Perhaps the contrast between the picture and its location is a constant escape from the concrete jungle in one case and the loneliness of a sparsely populated neighborhood in the other.

Yet, this cannot be true. New York City cityscapes abound on the walls of many apartments in the city. Wild scenery is common in forest lodges.  This is no contrast. This is replication. These pictures bring in outside spaces into the bounds of the home or office. Are their constant presence required to remind folks that their surroundings are unique?

Then there is, of course, the question of identity of the people living in the space they decorate. A superhero, a retro ice-cream truck, a music sensation. Writing, signs, souvenirs. Exotic and exoticized objects. Not always pictures. One’s identity is reaffirmed as pictures look back at a person from the walls and also declare who they are as people to others as an extension of themselves. These wall arts loudly declare to the viewer: “I am my pictures.”

What about the  dusty pictures on the walls of older houses that give the impression that the residents have moved on from whatever desire to escape or remember that had been an impetus for their existence? They remain as sad, neglected relics of times gone by. Reminders that either the household is too old or frail to care for them or too young and exuberant and heady with the present to care about the past.

Do pictures always mean something to the person who hangs them? Do people move on from whatever momentary desire makes them pick one picture against another and buy them, or frame them, or save them carefully? What happens when that moment passes?  Do those pictures then mean something to them on a day-to-day basis? At what point do those pictures cease to be landscapes, or buildings, or people and become just familiar objects on the wall?

Pictures are a little bit like memories, I think. A piece of life that is still, that you can go back to from time to time, realign, tweak, refresh, decorate your daily life with. If it’s a nice memory, you remember the moment but never quite feel it like the real thing.

©bottledworder, 2013.
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Did you like this post? You can read Memory’s oases

33 thoughts on “Pictures and desires”

  1. My husband and I have had so many words about the pictures that should go up on our walls that we really don’t have very many. We have tons of windows, so there’s really not much room for pictures. But our former daughter-in-law is an artist, and I love her work – he hates it, and it sits on the floor of our office/weight room along with tons of other large framed pieces of art. I think art work is very personal.


  2. It’s so true that we sometimes use wall imagery as an escape. I’m reminded of this huge wall decal of a very realistic-looking forest I found at Ikea once. We seem to want to be able to be in one place and experience another at the same time.


  3. Interesting thoughts, I love it when the pictures really tell the story, dreams and hopes of the people who chose them. Ever so often it looks quite the opposite, as if the pictures are hung to confirm to trends and someone else has decided is “art”, that disturbs me…


  4. Lovely thoughts! I really like the idea that pictures on a person’s wall reflect who they are…thinking about what’s hanging on my bedroom walls, I must agree!


  5. I have thought about dropping the photos on my blog posts at times. It is something I might consider yet I feel as if one photo may set the tone for the post and reel people into read. Yet, what I really want is folks just wanting to read it anyway picture or not because they think I am writing something worth reading.
    Interesting post and BTW–I have some of those old family photos up in my house..I guess I am old fashion that way….


    1. I agree in the escape aspect. Also, wall art reflects our aspirations. Most of what’s on our wall are portraits of family members and community leaders we admire, and landscapes of places that we’d love to visit because they are beautiful, picturesque, relaxing, or inspiring (the surf in Malibu, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a colorful garden).

      Also, art projects. We always have kid art up.


        1. The one of my elderly grandparents dressed up as a Prohibition-era gangster and a flapper for Purim. Or the view from Leo Carillo State Beach. Or the collages of each of my kids at different ages…I guess it’s hard to pick!


          1. yes it is difficult as one of my favorite is of a copper mineshaft house in the homestate of michigan, and one at Lake Louise in Canada, and one in Las Vegas but instead of picking the best each time i view these off to that setting i go.


  6. I had a real think about this, because I don’t really hang pictures in my room. But then I wondered about the trinkets and random objects I keep around, and realised that these are invested with memories and hopes and dreams in the same way that you talk about pictures.

    I guess it’s all about how the spaces we live in are reflections upon us. Or something. Nice post 🙂


  7. To think, I was going to write a similar post but you’ve beaten me to it! Good, descriptive piece. Pictures can hold memories, but memories fade. A picture holds forever, does it fade? maybe never.


  8. I feel that pictures on walls are the sign of people in tradition – moving from one state of mind or one location to another. Farm folk in a city with a picture of a field of corn is an overly simplistic example.


  9. “What are four walls, anyway?
    They are what they contain.
    The house protects the dreamer.
    Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game.
    It’s such a surprise.”
    Frances Mayes – Under The Tuscan Sun


  10. You had me up and walking around our home to view the things we hang on our wall with a fresh eye – much replication of what is right outside the windows (that made me think!) – some native art (suitable to our area of the world), pictures of kids and grandkids, watercolours – flowers – no city scapes for sure. Very thought provoking. I don’t think I could part with a single thing that hangs on the walls – they are as you say – memories.


  11. I have literally run out of walls to hang art. I hang them for all the reasons you stated. I hang them floor to ceiling in some spaces. All collected memories. Some pieces are huge – life size – The life size painting of my daughter (who passed away a few years ago). It hangs in my bedroom – close to me always.Then there’s the two paintings that I couldn’t hang for years. They belonged to my Mother and it was hard to hang them in my home now I have inherited them. Virginia


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