Last updated on July 1st, 2022 at 02:34 pm
Spring. Baby deer in the yard, wild turkey walking through. Temperatures above 90 degrees. My face has melted into my chest.
I’ve always associated a lack of organization with creative people, and have accepted my junk as part of the process. Piles on my desk, filing cabinet, bead magazines teetering off my beading table. My beads themselves are pretty organized . . . now.
Here’s a question for all you dreamers out there:
Do you feel chaos is freeing?
Is the concept of “getting organized” painful and boring?
Does being disorganized have an impact on your creativity or your ability to execute your dreams?
Sometimes I wonder if my obsession with multiple streams of income is really a sign that I can’t commit to one thing for too long or I’d go crazy. Maybe the disorganization is a way for me to feel like I am doing more than I am actually accomplishing . . . well that’s depressing.
In this TED video, comedian and cabaret artist Ursus Wehrli is on a crusade to tidy up art –
The transcript of this video is as follows –
My name is Ursus Wehrli, and I would like to talk to you this morning about my project, Tidying Up Art. First of all — any questions so far? First of all, I have to say I’m not from around here. I’m from a completely different cultural area, maybe you noticed? I mean, I’m wearing a tie, first. And then secondly, I’m a little bit nervous because I’m speaking in a foreign language, and I want to apologize in advance, for any mistakes I might make. because I’m from Switzerland, and I just don’t hope you think this is Swiss German I’m speaking now here. This is just what it sounds like if we Swiss try to speak American. But don’t worry — I don’t have trouble with English, as such. I mean, it’s not my problem, it’s your language after all.
I am fine. After this presentation here at TED, I can simply go back to Switzerland, and you have to go on talking like this all the time.
So I’ve been asked by the organizers to read from my book. It’s called, Tidying Up Art and it’s, as you can see, it’s more or less a picture book. So the reading would be over very quickly. But since I’m here a TED, I decided to hold my talk here in a more modern way, in the spirit of TED here, and I managed to do some slides here for you. I’d like to show them around so we can just, you know … Actually, I managed to prepare for you some enlarged pictures — even better.
So Tidying Up Art, I mean, I have to say, that’s a relatively new term.
You won’t be familiar with it. I mean, it’s a hobby of mine that I’ve been indulging in for the last few years, and it all started out with this picture of the American artist, Donald Baechler I had hanging at home. I had to look at it every day and after a while, I just couldn’t stand the mess anymore this guy was looking at all day long. Yeah, I kind of felt sorry for him. And it seemed to me even he felt really bad facing these unorganized red squares day after day. So I decided to give him a little support and brought some order into neatly stacking the blocks on top of each other.
Yeah. And I think he looks now less miserable. And it was great. With this experience, I started to look more closely at modern art. Then I realized how, you know, the world of modern art is particularly topsy turvy.
And I can show you a very good example. It’s actually a simple one, but it’s a good one to start with. It’s a picture by Paul Klee. And we can see here very clearly, it’s a confusion of color. Yeah. The artist doesn’t really seem to know where to put the different colors. The various pictures here of the various elements of the picture — the whole thing is unstructured.
We don’t know, maybe Mr. Klee was probably in a hurry, I mean — (Laughter) — maybe he had to catch a plane or something. We can see here he started out with orange, and then he already ran out of orange, and here we can see he decided to take a break for a square. And I would like to show you here my tidied-up version of this picture. (Laughter) We can see now what was barely recognizable in the original: 17 red and orange squares are juxtaposed with just two green squares. Yeah, that’s great. So I mean, that’s just tidying up for beginners. I would like to you see a picture which is a bit more advanced.
What can you say? What a mess.
I mean, you see, everything seems to have been scattered aimlessly around the space. If my room back home had looked this, my mother would have grounded me for three days. So I’d like — I’d like to reintroduce some structure into that picture. And that’s really advanced tidying up. (Applause) Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes people clap at this point but that’s actually more in Switzerland. (Laughter) We Swiss are famous for chocolate and cheese. Our trains run on time. We are only happy when things are in order.
But to go on here is a very good example to see. This is a picture by Joan Miro. And yeah, we can see the artist has drawn a few lines and shapes and dropped them any old way onto a yellow background. And yeah, it’s the sort of thing you produce when you’re doodling on the phone. (Laughter) And this is my — (Laughter) — you can see how the whole thing takes up far less space. It’s more economical and also more efficient. With this method, Mr. Miro could have saved canvas for another picture.
But I can see in your faces that you’re still a little bit skeptical. So that you can just appreciate how serious I am about all this, I brought along the patents, the specifications for some of these works, because I’ve had my working methods patented at the EidgenÃ¶ssische Amt fÃ¼r Geistiges Eigentum in Bern, Switzerland. (Laughter) I’ll just quote from the specification. “Laut den KunstprÃ¼fer Dr. Albrecht –” It’s not finished yet. “Laut den KunstprÃ¼fer Dr. Albrecht GÃ¶tz von Ohlenhusen wird die Verfahrensweise rechtlich geschÃ¼tzt welche die Kunst durch spezifisch aufgerÃ¤umte RegelmÃ¤ssigkeiten des allgemeinen Formenschatzes neue Wirkungen zu erzielen mÃ¶glich wird.”
Ja, well I could have translated that, but you would have been none the wiser. I’m not sure myself what it means but it sounds good anyway. I just realized it’s important how one introduces new ideas to people, that’s why these patents are sometimes necessary. I would like to do a short test with you. Everyone is sitting in quite an orderly fashion here this morning. So I would like to ask you all to raise your right hand. Yeah. The right hand is the one we write with, apart from the left-handers. And now, I’ll count to three. I mean, it still looks very orderly to me. Now, I’ll count to three, and on the count of three, I’d like you all to shake hands with the person behind you. OK? One, two, three. (Laughter)
You can see now, that’s a good example: even behaving in an orderly, systematic way can sometimes lead to complete chaos.
So we can also see that very clearly in this next painting. This is a painting by the artist, Niki de Saint Phalle. And I mean, in the original it’s completely unclear to see what this tangle of colors and shapes is supposed to depict. But in the tidied-up version, it’s plain to see that it’s a sunburnt woman playing volleyball. (Laughter) Yeah, it’s a — this one here, that’s much better. That’s a picture by Keith Haring. (Laughter) I think it doesn’t matter. So, I mean, this picture has not even got a proper title. It’s called “Untitled” and I think that’s appropriate.
So, in the tidied-up version, we have a sort of Keith Haring spare parts shop. (Laughter) This is what Keith Haring looked at statistically. One can see here quite clearly, you can see we have 25 pale green elements, of which one is in the form of a circle. Or here, for example, we have 27 pink squares with only one pink curve. I mean, that’s interesting. One could extend this sort of statistical analysis to cover all of Mr. Haring’s various works. in order to establish in which period the artist favored pale green circles or pink squares. And the artist himself could also benefit from this sort of listing procedure by using it to estimate how many pots of paint he’s likely to need in the future.
One can obviously also make combinations. For example, with the Keith Haring circles and Kandinsky’s dots. You can add them to all the squares of Paul Klee. In the end, one has a list with which one then can arrange. Then you categorize it, then you file it, put that file in a filing cabinet, put it in your office and you can make a living doing it. (Laughter) Yeah, from my own experience. So I’m — (Laughter) Actually, I mean, we have artists that are a bit more structured. It’s not too bad. This is Jasper Johns. We can see here he was practicing with his ruler.
But I think it could still benefit from more discipline. And I think the whole thing adds up much better if you do it like this. And here, that’s one of my favorites. Tidying up Rene Magritte — this is really fun. You know, there is a — (Laughter) It has been asked what inspired me to embark on all this. It goes back to a time when I was very often staying in hotels. So once I had the opportunity to stay in a ritzy, five-star hotel. And you know, there you had this little sign — I put this little sign outside the door every morning that read, “Please tidy room.”
I don’t know if I have them over here. So actually, my room there hasn’t been tidied once daily, but three times a day. So after a while, I decided to have a little fun, and before leaving the room each day I’d scatter a few things around the space. Like books, clothes, toothbrushes, et cetera. And it was great. By the time I returned everything had always been neatly returned to its place. But then one morning, I hang the same little sign onto that picture by Vincent van Gogh. And you have to say this room hadn’t been tidied up since 1888. And when I returned it looked like this. Yeah, at least it is now possible to do some vacuuming.
OK, I mean, I can see there are always people that like reacting that one or another picture hasn’t been properly tidied up. So we can make a short test with you. This is a picture by Rene Magritte, and I’d like you all to inwardly — like in your head, that is — tidy that up. So it’s possible that some of you would make it like this.
Yeah? I would actually prefer to do it more this way. Some people would make apple pie out of it. But it’s a very good example to see that the whole work was more of a handicraft endeavor that involved the very time-consuming job of cutting out the various and elements sticking them back in new arrangements. And it’s not done, as many people imagine, with the computer, otherwise it would look like this.
So now I’ve been able to tidy up pictures that I’ve wanted to tidy up for a long time.
Here is a very good example. Take Jackson Pollock, for example. It’s — oh, no, it’s — that’s a really hard one. But after a while, I just decided here to go all the way and put the paint back into the cans. (Applause) Or you could go into three-dimensional art. Here we have the Fur Cup by Meret Oppenheim. Here I just brought it back to its original state. But yeah, and it’s great, you can even go, you know — Or we have this pointillist movement for those of you who are into art. The pointillist movement is that kind of painting where everything is broken down into dots and pixels And then I — this sort of thing is ideal for tidying up.
So I once applied myself to the work of the inventor of that method, Georges Seurat, and I collected together all his dots. And now they’re all in here. (Laughter) You can count them afterward if you like. You see, that’s the wonderful thing about the tidy-up art idea: It’s new. So there is no existing tradition in it. There are no textbooks, I mean, not yet, anyway. I mean, it’s the “future we will create.”
But to round things up I would like to show you just one more. This is the village square by Pieter Bruegel. That’s how it looks like when you send everyone home. Yeah, maybe you’re asking yourselves where old Brugel’s people went? Of course, they’re not gone. They’re all here. I just piled them up.
So I’m — yeah, actually I’m kind of finished at that moment.
And for those who want to see more, I’ve got my book downstairs in the bookshop. And I’m happy to sign it for you with the name of any artist. But before leaving I would like to show you, that I’m working right now on another — in a related field with my tidying up art method. I’m working in a related field. And I started to bring some orders into some flags. Here — that’s just my new proposal here for the Union Jack. (Laughter) And then maybe before I leave you … yeah, I think, after you have seen that I have to leave anyway.
Yeah, that was a hard one. I couldn’t find a way to tidy that up properly, so I just decided to make it a little bit simpler. Thank you very much. (Applause)
Do you think it’s important to have a tidy, organized dream?
Let me know –
Heather Montgomery is a fitness writer, triathlete, and serial entrepreneur who is devoted to sharing what she has learned about becoming a triathlete after age 40. She uses her Metabolic Training Certification to help other women struggling to get fit in mid-life. She lives and trains in Santa Rosa, California, the new home of the Ironman triathlon. You can find her biking the Sonoma County wine trails.
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