Home grown tomatoes, an open window, flowers on the oak table, walking to the farmer’s market, an annual trip to the sea – these are examples of l’art de vivre (pronounced la-de-veevra), which translates to the art of living. Untethered to fortune, fantasy or fame, this French philosophy centres around finding joy in life’s sweet notes, as minor as they may be. It knows that happiness – or joie de vivre – doesn’t happen all at once, it sustains in many modest delights.
To acquaint you with the life-affirming l'art de vivre, here’s our recipe for living well.
Evan Mackley, 'Flowerscape – A Vase of Blooms'
A core tenet of l’art de vivre is learning how to be present. This could mean pausing each morning to observe the sunrise, relishing your lunch break as you would a date with a friend or regularly unplugging from technology. It might also be cultivated at a museum or gallery, where the prime objective is to not do, plan or enact, but look, reflect and appreciate.
To be present is to be grounded. It entails a way of being that is rooted in what’s attainable, rather than imaginings of the past and future.
Auguste Blackman, 'Jump for Joy'
Engage your senses
L’art de vivre is aligned with the senses. It places itself in the pathway of smells, flavours and sights, practicing what someone once called “yoga for the senses”.
One setting to cultivate this practice is in the kitchen. Prioritising ingredients that are both local and in season, assemble a simple meal with the utmost care. Stop to taste along the way, smell the just picked basil, and let the plumes of steam swallow you. Art, too, is another feast you can indulge in. A banquet for the eyes, art lives to activate your senses, playing with colour, texture and light to fire the imagination.
Charles Blackman's 'Alice's House' is an inadvertant ode to l'art de vivre. It's a chorus of vignettes from daily life: teacups and soft gloves and whiskers on kittens!
A Proustian aside
L'art de vivre is attuned to Proust's madeleine – French author Marcel Proust's (1871 – 1922) notion that some memories, sparked by sensory encounters, are involuntary. These memories bear the past's essence in a way consciously trying to recall something evades.
The term comes from Proust's novel 1933 novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu (or In Search of Lost Time), told in seven volumes. In it, the narrator describes biting a madeleine dipped in tea and immediately being overwhelmed by childhood memories. This notion of memory, involuntarily triggered by a sensory cue, sits at not only the book's heart but Proust's legacy.
What's your madeleine? Perhaps an ex-lover's perfume, the cool metal of your mother's sewing scissors, or a kookaburra's laugh reverberating from childhood camping trips?
Auguste Blackman, 'Incandescent Oyster'
Take the good with the bad
To note, l’art de vivre is not all silly smiles. Rather, it takes life as a mosaic of moments both happy and not. It embraces tastes, smells, relationships, memories, meals, tears, laughter, kisses, losses, mistakes, dead ends, redemptions, disappointments, falls and triumphs. It places feeling first and foremost.
L’art de vivre is as much savouring wine with friends, as it is crying in a bathtub, rain cascading outside.
John Olsen, 'Opera House'
An appreciation for poetry is part of l'art de vivre, just ask John Olsen. The artist's love affair with poetry was sparked by Robert Graves, who once stated "You can paint pretty pictures all you like, but without metaphor, you have nothing." In answer, Olsen started reading poetry daily.
"I don't speed-read, I read. It's nourishment for my brain, and as I read I let my thoughts wander, and those meandering thoughts find their way into the pictures I paint. It's always a journey on the canvas, and when I start, I don't want to already know the ending.”
In a truely rare and special way, 'Opera House' (above) unites Olsen's love for poetry and image. Beside a sprawling harbour sits the poem Watson's Bay, an ode to the fusing of artist, water and poetry.
Living with your values at your side
There is an attitudinal alignment between l’art de vivre and collecting art. Both are about thoughtfully capturing what you think is important whether that’s beauty, wonder or curiosity. By thinking deeply about your values and enacting them through the art you invest in, you begin to live alongside meaning.
L’art de vivre also encourages the cultivation of intellect and art appreciation. This can involve staying active in your local arts scene, listening to music and reading (perhaps in a book club), entertaining often and simply, and talking through that new addition to your collection. L’art de vivre is not to be lived in isolation – it recognizes the value of being social, that art unfurls in dialogue and conversation is an art itself.
Mary Hammond's charming 'Prahran' (above) captures this sentiment perfectly.
If l'art de vivre is about living life artfully, then what does it mean to not? An artless life is one where wellbeing is placed last, beauty is treated as perfunctory and the everyday is a mere limbo between destinations. It interrupts a meal to check work emails, runs on a treadmill while the sun beams outside, grabs a protein bar between appointments, buys the cheapest olive oil and leaves the walls bare.
Even if, after living artlessly, you reach the destination you desired – will it be worth it? Contentment is a state you build for yourself, constructed incrementally and steadily. It knows little is not a synonym for insignificant and that life is mostly little moments, punctured by the rare big one. It is l'art de vivre and it’s well worth living.