The Joy of Mess

Just between the two of us, I have a confession to make.  When I make art, I like mess.  Mess is joyful.  Come on.  Admit it.  You like mess too, don’t you?  You can tell me.  Confess to your love of mess!

I don’t mean the mess that arises from utter chaos.  I mean the mess you get when you are up to your elbows in making your art and you just aren’t too particular where everything falls.  When I describe my mess, I think it’s important to realise that any mess that just destroys my materials, tools, clothing or the studio is not the mess that makes me happy.  I prefer the kind of mess where everything is close to hand, but you know exactly where everything is and can reach for it without looking.  The mess removes the need to guess.

There is something very satisfying about a lived-in desk or a studio that looks like real work takes place there.  I despair at architectural depictions of artists’ residences and workspaces, where everything is white and there is nothing on the walls.  You can’t see a single paint brush or sculpting chisel.  There are no splash marks, no half removed stains and no evidence of human habitation, let alone the presence of an immersed artist, working in full flow.  The architect’s sterile model of the ideal artists’ work place looks more like a species of morgue, to me.  It’s a dead place.  If it’s not messed, I get depressed.

If the pile of papers, books and CDs isn’t teetering precariously, if the cables are not a rats nest of peril, if the guitars are not stacked up against the amps at different angles (though no angle that would cause harm or injury to a guitar), then it feels like I can’t work there.  It isn’t homely enough.  I can’t find comfort and settle into my task.  I’m too distracted by the absence of stimulating tools and materials.  In fact, a studio that doesn’t have a certain amount of mess looks like nobody has ever worked there.  It’s quite uninspiring to have a working environment that is devoid of instant stimulations for the imagination.  You have to say yes to an excess of mess.

Maybe that’s why I hate those homogenous, identical, grey or beige office cubes that seem to be all the rage in corporate life.  Maybe that’s why I hate open plan offices with a clear desk policy.  What is there to keep your mind active?  Where are the splashes of colour to inspire you?  Everybody needs weird little desk toys and gadgets to occupy the hands, while the mind wanders into new innovations.  How anybody does creative work in a cubicle that most resembles a hospital insane ward, or prison cell, escapes me entirely.  There should be no redress for those that eschew mess.

As a child, one of my favourite memories was being in the workshop with my dad, who made furniture.  I would be ankle deep in fresh wood shavings that were coming from his perfectly honed jack plane.  The sound, feel and smell of them overwhelmed the senses.  There’s nothing quite like it.  In our makeshift wood shop, there was also the smell of the sawdust coming from the table saw.  It was all lovely and messy.  Sweeping up was half the fun.  It was my chance to impress, while cleaning up the mess.

Few things are as much fun as a drawer full of random resistors, or capacitors, or those itty bitty little transistors and diodes.  When I am building electronic circuits, I love to have all my tools close to hand and pick-uppable without having to take the soldering iron off the joint I am soldering, or without having to move the multimeter or scope probe.  Building a circuit, especially a prototype on veroboard, takes intense concentration.  The last thing you want is to have to break that concentration to find a tool, or to put one away.  Your bench needs to be all set for the epic and you need to work from start to finish, without leaving your position.  Distractions ingress, unless you have your own particular mess.

One of my favourite things, when I was small, was to be given the task of finding a particular nut or bolt in an old ice cream tin full of spare or discarded nuts and bolts.  I eventually knew every piece by heart and could find anything I was asked to find, but to everyone else it just looked like a pile of scrap metal junk.  Having that special knowledge was a thrill all of its own.  All of those silly little metal pieces became like my toys and I knew them all by sight and feel.  I had a similar obsession with Lego bricks and Matchbox cars.  It was nice to caress my favourite mess.

I love the continuity of mess, if you are in the middle of a long project and have to come back to it.  Finding everything where you left it is important, to let you remain immersed in the task and to help you pick up where you left off.  That said, I like to start with a clean work space at the beginning of the project.  Then I can throw my stuff around, but to places I can memorise.  I also think it’s the height of rudeness not to clean up your work space, when the project is complete.  It’s a reset that lets you clear your mind of the old project and prepare for the new, for one thing, but more importantly it lets other people that share your space have a go at their projects, without having to deal with your “filing” system.  Nobody wants to deal with mess under duress.

Leaving your mess behind is decidedly anti-social.  I often reflect on now dead politicians that were once so certain of the rectitude of their beliefs that they changed the institutions and laws to reflect their ideas, and then moved on, leaving their mess behind for others.  We often cannot expunge the mess they caused for generations after they leave office.  It would have been better had those sorts of politicians stayed home and messed around with paint or clay, instead of ruining the environment or causing the lives of others to become infested with their mess.  That sort of mess is just a stress.

Messing is a blessing, but leaving a mess is a terrible thing to do.  You should experience the joy of mess daily, but clean up after you do.  Tomorrow’s mess will be even more fun than today’s, if you’re messing correctly.

Express your art through your mess.

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About tropicaltheartist

I love colours. Not colour. Colour is an abstract concept. I love the actual colours. Concrete. Real. Tangible. Each one is a friend. Each one affects me subtly differently. Colours dance and sing together. That harmony of light inspires me, excites me, uplifts me, energises me and infuses me with joy and well being. Colours, seen in relation to each other, offer tranquillity. Bright colours are the direct route to saturated beauty. Abundant colour is abundant beauty. The act of painting is, for me, the transference of pure love. Love for the colours and what I see as my subject, through the canvas and the paint, to the viewer. I paint to surround myself with beauty and to counteract the excess ugliness in the world. Beauty is the antidote. Beauty is the solution. Painting is my newest medium to express innovation, creativity, beauty, hope and the future. I didn’t paint at all until I was in my mid forties. I didn’t draw either. Somewhere along the way I had been convinced that artistic talent was for somebody else. I had listened to people programmed by a lifetime of subtle propaganda to function in and perpetuate a capitalist society. Now I have glimpsed the truth: that art is for everybody. Art is democratic and anarchistic, in the very best senses of those words. Criticism and denigration of any artist’s work is but an artefact of commerce and hierarchy. Convincing somebody to forsake their art is nothing more than an abuse of power. Knowing this is empowering. But don’t conclude that I had no medium at all until my forties. I have always had a creative medium. It has been (and still is) music, invention, software, electronics, ideas, wood, metal, my garden, writing. In each medium, I find the colours and I use them to express my inner joy. Creating lets me exert a meaningful counter pressure to the crushing weight of conformity, convention, oppression and restrictions against freedom that sit like a dead weight on all of us. Some blithely buy into the propaganda and don’t trouble themselves with the obviously inexplicable things that belie the truth. I cannot. I am too aware. I can sense intuitively that all is not what it seems, with the world. Creating is my one way to fight back and maintain my equilibrium and peace. I choose to fight with love and beauty. And when I fight, I fight with lightness, wit, surprise, delight, some humour and without taking myself too seriously. Ultimately, the bad guys can’t win against abundant love and beauty. Painting is the latest tool in my self-appointed mission to imagine, invent, inspire, create, encourage, enlighten and edify.
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