An unedited picture of my tidy workspace this morning. It looks something like this most days.

On Being a Tidy Artist

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Forget politics. It seems the most polarizing issue in my news feed these days is tidiness. Marie Kondo is in the zeitgeist again thanks to her new Netflix show, and many of my artist friends are taking serious umbrage to the idea of tidying up their living and working spaces.

I was reading a blog post by Austin Kleon this morning, and even he gets in on the KonMari-bashing act. He quotes from his latest book Keep Going:

“This is a bad time to be a pack rat. The propaganda against clutter and the mania for tidying has been whipped up by TV shows like Hoarders and Storage Wars and countless blogs that fetishize orderly studios and perfect workspaces with “things organized neatly,” culminating in Marie Kondo’s gigantic bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While Kondo’s tips can work wonders on your sock drawer or your kitchen pantry, I have serious doubts about their usefulness to artists.”

There’s a particular camp of self-proclaimed messy artists who feel that art can only be created out of chaos. I find this insulting. Do you honestly believe there is only one way to be an artist? That’s an incredibly limiting point of view. Especially coming from an artist.

Several years ago I had a small party of friends at my house in Los Angeles, and one of those friends brought along with him a fairly famous rock musician. After pleasantly chatting with this musician over drinks by the fire pit, he happened to see my workspace. He turned to me and said, “I thought you said you were an artist? Your space is way too organized to be an artist. How can you come up with anything creative in this environment?”

I was thunderstruck and of course totally embarrassed. And insulted. Because I AM creative in my space. And my space is super organized. If I get to the point where my space gets messy, it causes me stress, which is not conducive to the work I do. My space is not minimalist, but it’s tidy.

I feel like I can be more creative because of my tidiness. I have enormous respect for every object in my space – from the mug I use to sip my morning coffee to the box that corrals all of the as yet unused greeting cards which I will someday send to friends and loved ones. I don’t believe I am the owner of these objects. I am merely the steward. And I feel a responsibility to them because a) I derive great pleasure from them and b) in most cases they will far outlive me. I treat my home and the objects within my home as though they are all living beings. I think that casually accumulating objects for use “someday” robs them of their potential to be put to greater use elsewhere. They get piled up or tossed aside or lumped together in boxes. They don’t get to breathe.

I am inspired by the idea of only keeping objects that spark joy. To me, it is a form of mindfulness. I am paying attention to what surrounds me. I am connecting with the objects in my life. I am giving those things that spark joy in me the opportunity to inspire me. Everything in my workspace is needed and wanted and cared for. And yes, I do only own about 30 books though I’m an avid reader. I only enjoy keeping the books that I refer to again and again. The others, I pass along so that other people can enjoy them. If I need to reference something again, there are many libraries from which I can get those items. And guess what? The library is an inspiring place to go where even more ideas can take shape!

I am not against collecting. I have several small collections, everything from wigs to puppets. But I don’t see these things as “mine.” They are simply passing through. Some stay longer than others, and that’s OK. Letting go of things inspires me to go out into the world to find new things that spark joy in me. It’s a cycle.

It can be isolating to be a tidy artist. I don’t know too many of them but doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Are you a tidy artist? I’d love to hear your take on the issue.

An unedited picture of my tidy workspace this morning. It looks something like this most days.
An unedited picture of my tidy workspace this morning. It looks something like this most days.