Applying Genuine Hygge in Art, and the COVID-19 Times

In the flood of articles published since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, a suggestion caught my attention; let’s turn to Hygge to relieve people during lockdown. As I was trying to find a way to help others, as well as myself, face this stressful situation, I took some time to think about this piece of advice.

For a long time, I’ve enjoyed Danish art and I often look at the paintings of Skagen’s artists to find peace and resilience. So, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to share this with others, to start a positive conversation. After all, as American artist Lawrence Weiner said, “Art is a conversation. And if there’s no conversation, what the hell it is about?” So, maybe let’s talk about Danish paintings and (real) Hygge. Yes, now. In Covid-19 times. Because, why not?

Anna Ancher Danish painting
Anna Ancher (1859-1935) – Girl in the Kitchen

In 1864, Denmark had lost territories after a series of wars. The country withdrew into itself, forcing its people to look after a less demonstrative idea of happiness. Danish people then decided to borrow Norwegian word hygge, which in Middle Age meant ‘console’ and ‘support’ to name their new lifestyle. This new way to find happiness is inside, in the protection of your own house, where you enjoy the comfort of your interior, of your family and of activities such as reading and creating.

Vilhelm Hammershoi Danish painting
Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) – Interior With Young Man Reading

Of course, now, the concept of Hygge is sold to you through blankets and perfumed candles. It can be this, if you want to, but at first, it is much more about enjoying the peace and safety of your inner world in hard times. It is about acceptance, patience and surviving until better days. Perhaps this is exactly what the world needs right now, at a time when we have no choice but to confine ourselves to fight Covid-19.

Carl Holsoe Danish painting
Carl Holsøe (1863-1935) – Interior With Woman Reading

Silence, seclusion and social distancing may seem scary, but maybe we could try to see the philosophy and even the beauty of our situation (yes). Nineteenth Century’s Danish artists certainly succeeded in turning the hardships of their country into gorgeous paintings. These Beauties from the Past focus on the contrast between daylight and dim interiors. The houses are often minimalistic, yet cozy and the result is more peaceful than gloomy. Yep, for Hygge less is more.

Georg Achen Danish painting Hygge
Georg Achen (1860-1912) – Interior With Reading Woman

The figures in these paintings are never evoking loneliness, as they are either concentrated on their tasks or building their inner universe. The invisible presence of the painter is also strong, and the powerful link between the artist and the model is emphasized by each brushstroke. There is tenderness in these artworks. And that’s something you can hoard without shortage.

Johannes Wilhjelm Danish painting
Johannes Wilhjelm (1868-1938) – Noonday Rest

We can easily imagine, beyond the silence of the canvas, the soft noise of the pages of a book being turned, a hummed melody, the song of some birds outside or any music you’d like to listen to. The characters are often looking through their windows, and we can imagine that they could wave at confined neighbors. Some of these ancient Danish paintings can even portray those neighbors, creating social contacts without outside activities and Wifi.

Vilhelm Hammershoi Danish painting
Vilhelm Hammershøi – Courtyard, Strandgade 30

So you may ask, how should I relate to some static paintings from another century in my apartment or house filled with hi-tech and scary news? Well, you could start by restraining yourself from refreshing media pages every second, and even distancing from them (keep informed, but not addicted). Grab a book, put your chair near the window to get some sun and read. It can be fiction, but also essays, art books, school books, etc. This is the time to learn, to put yourself in someone’s else skin or to improve your own skills. You’d be surprised how you can widen your universe by just staying on that chair, inside a room.

Peter Ilsted Danish painting
Peter Ilsted (1861-1933) – Sunshine in an Interior

You are an artist? Take your tools and fix this moment on paper, on a canvas or on your tablet. If you are confined with someone, make their portrait. Ask your neighbors if you can sketch them through the windows. Connect with members of your family as well as with strangers who are alone; you could cheer them up with art and learn about them. Re-invent the motion inside of the frozen city.

And if you are alone, take the time to really see and admire the light. Light is art, it is life. By staying home right now, you are also bringing life to others and to you. You are not spreading a virus that could kill elders and people with chronic diseases (yes, even young, very young persons), people from your family, your friend circle or just innocent strangers. The time you’re spending inside is years of life you are giving to others and to yourself. Turn your restlessness into something creative. Become a better person for you, for your close relations and for your society. Make art that will turn this sad moment into something more beautiful and that will comfort others.

Paul Fischer Danish painting
Paul Fischer (1860-1934) – The Birthday

Also, keep something in mind. This crisis won’t last. As Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov said, “Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that.” Every dark period of history leaded to better days. Take Denmark for example; after these hardships, they became one of the happiest countries in the world. Let’s start the process right now by putting some encouraging Hygge in our lives.

Peder Kroyer Danish painting
Peder Krøyer (1851-1909) – Hip, hip, Hurrah!


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