I’ve often read of the connection between messiness and artists.
There is apparently a direct correlation between disorganization and creative thought. More than one study has shown that creative types prefer chaos to order. Messy desks/work spaces promote thinking outside of the box.
In one such study, research conducted by Kathleen Vohs, PhD, of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, found that cluttered environments help induce greater levels of creativity. According to Vohs: “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”
Steve Jobs loved a good mess. Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Zuckerberg are all known to live in untidiness. As a creative person myself, rather than bask in the knowledge that I keep great company, I find these articles to be somewhat shaming. Humph! I say as I toss another bottle of ink in the general direction of the growing stack of bottled alcohol inks, tripping over the flipflop that I thought was lost as I do so.
I didn’t grow up in a family that thought messiness was a virtue. They did not consider it a stamp of creative genius. I remember as a teenager, my mother pleading with me to clean my room only to come home from school more often than once to find my room as neat as a row of pins. The mirror gleaming, the bed neatly made and clothes folded and stacked in my dresser with my blouses and skirts hung in the closet.
Of course, I protested, just to protest – what snots teens can be! For a short while, I enjoyed the order. But, that night as I climbed into my carefully made bed I would feel like a stranger in my own room and within a few short days the floors and dresser would once again be lost to the flotsam and jetsam of teenage girls.
You might say, all teens have messy rooms. The trouble is, this love for everything where I can see it rather than put away into neat rows or stacked into cupboards has followed me well beyond the teenage years. Well beyond. I feel that I am always running behind myself trying to keep up a facade that is just not comfortable.
Now in my late 50s, I’m finally beginning to understand that messiness is not shame-worthy. It’s not a character flaw, but a human characteristic to be held to the light and built upon.
One of the reasons my studio can start to get out of hand is that I like to have everything out where I can see it. Colors, textures, images all serve to inspire and spark ideas. A chaotic jumble to the novice eye, but not to an artist. So, while I need to see things before me, I also need to keep it all sort of tethered and “hierarchical.”
I’ve found a few tools that help me with some semblance of order. Rotating caddies, or what some call a “lazy susan” are a wonder. They provide a spot for a menagerie of supplies while still allowing one to see exactly what is at hand.
A wall of some well thought out shallow shelving will allow for this sort of organization as well. Nothing so deep that things get pushed behind and forgotten. I have more than one pair of tin snips and spools of wire in gauge 20 to attest to this. Maybe someone should do a study on creatives and short memories. I would do well there also.
One really wonderful way to view things, while at the same time providing storage, is to create displays that showcase your work in a unique manner. I make glass beads and jewelry using skinny rods of imported glass.
For my work space in Canada I was lucky enough to come across an antique wooden crate previously used for shipping wine bottles. My colorful rods of glass, the exact length of a wine bottle, filled the spaces perfectly and made a very pretty display in the corner of my little studio.
Most importantly, relax. Let it be. If one rebellious part of your room tends to fly apart no matter what methods you’ve tried, leave it be. Just try to ensure that it stays confined and doesn’t spill over into the rest of your space. I’ve learned that it is a fine line between comfort zone and hair-pulling chaos. That crossed line does nothing to breed anything close to creative ideas.
Here is a photo of my torch station here in my studio in Qatar. The ceramic tile sitting on top of the tin holds separate little heaps of crushed glass used to roll molten glass in. There are three different groupings or selections of glass rods laid out on my desk top, starting at the far bottom right. I have differentiated them by arranging each group at slightly different angles from each other. That might be missed by those who see only a “mess” of glass rods.
I’m learning not to be shamed by the label “messy creative.” I can freely admit that I like a good mess. Acceptance is good. Maybe somewhere in the next decade I’ll even learn to embrace it. Privately, I’ve always taken small comfort in a quote that I came across some years ago:
“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” – Albert Einstein.
Do you consider yourself to be a messy or a tidy person? Do you find yourself in a “mess” more often than not? Do you think you must be messy to be creative? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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