My sculptor son Ned and I got into a lively conversation a couple of nights ago on neatness in the workspace. The guys in his shop have a sign on the wall that says “Form Follows F----UP. Rosie, my blog helper, tells me the server who sends out my blog does not tolerate lewdness of any kind and will probably take me off line. Anyhow, the principle is pretty obvious: too much messiness and you can’t think straight; too neat and you inhibit creativity. I once walked out of an art teaching job (to scary unemployment) in New York City because the Principal of the school insisted that the room be perfectly neat at all times, no spilled paint, no paper scraps on the floor. Better “hand to mouth” I decided than to try to teach art in such an inhibiting environment.
Of course, the need for order varies from artist to artist and the nature of his or her work. I’m somewhere in the middle of neatness: too much mess and I can’t think straight, can’t find anything. Too neat and the principle of “limited sloppiness” kicks in and I can’t create. There are artists, however, like the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian, who lived in New York City during World War II. Mondrian was known for maintaining an immaculate studio in his apartment, coming to work every day wearing a suit and a tie, spending months on each painting, carefully moving a limited repertoire of shapes and lines around the canvas.
I find I work best (like most artists) in a state of middle neatness. I recently passed the threshold of acceptable messiness and was forced to hire someone to help me get “organized.” I won’t give out her name because she’s so busy she barely has time to help me. I learned my lesson with Felipe, my handyman, gardener, carpenter, canvas stretcher and “homme de ménage.” He’s better than a husband because you can tell him what to do. I made the mistake of sending him to a friend, who sent him to all her friends and now I have trouble getting him.
Anyhow, X got me organized in two afternoons. We took four carloads of waste matter to the dump, and I never missed any of it. I now need her again because the creepy crud is coming back. Nature abhors a vacuum. Her methods are simple: she is very autocratic, insists that I concentrate on what we are doing, doesn’t allow me to drift off into my usual creative revery. That’s the problem of trying to make order on your own; you get distracted. “Oh, that’s where such and such is! Let’s see what I can do with it”. The “neatanizer” snaps me back to attention and the job gets done. We still have half a studio to go (probably another four loads to the dump?) but she has been too busy to get to me. Apparently, there are lots of artists around who desperately need her services.” While there’s truth to “form follows f---- up,” the problem is getting one’s workplace to the point whereyou can create without distraction …(and keep it there!)