Clutter Causes Confusion

17 Aug 2009

Does clutter cause confusion when you get ready to paint or draw?
Does clutter cause confusion when you get ready to paint or draw?
When I meet artists learning how to paint at a painting workshop or at an art convention, they often comment that I must be a highly organized person. Upon hearing this, I laugh inwardly and reply, “I'm organized in my thoughts but not with my stuff.” That goes especially for my painting supplies and artworks.

Although to-do lists help me get things done, I often either lose the list or get sidetracked and forget to refer back to it. For years, I've been following the advice of organization gurus through their books and online articles, but during the last six months, I've made a discovery: I've been following the advice of left-brained organization experts who are most likely well-organized to begin with. I employ a right-brained approach for nearly everything I do. In other words, I'm visually oriented. You as a painter or draftsman might be too.

Since my mind tends to organize itself by what my eyes see, it makes sense that if I enter an art studio that's filled with clutter--oil painting art, drawing supplies, brushes, canvases, easels--I'm less likely to begin working anytime soon. If my references and tools were set up and in order, I'd clearly see what the next step is, and I'd walk over to my painting easel and get to work. On the other hand, if I've got piles of papers and dirty brushes scattered, my sight can't visually land on what to work on. When this is the case, it requires me to spend my first hour in the studio organizing my stuff while ignoring my artistic muse. Often, I run out of energy before I even get started on my painting.

Clutter causes confusion, confusion leads to stress, stress can develop into avoidance, and avoidance often results in procrastination. Yes, I have seen artists who work in a mire of clutter yet work productively, but I suspect that either their clutter is highly organized or else they can block out everything but the painting they're working on. I'm not that efficient at blocking out my surroundings.

I work most efficiently when my studio is neat and my supplies are clean and set out where I can see them. When I set up my references and supplies the night before, I can enter the studio and know exactly what the next step of my work process is. I feel relaxed, inspired, and ready for work.

What about you? How do you beat the clutter in your art world?

--Lori


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Comments

on 18 Aug 2009 7:30 PM

As the contributor linked above to another blog asking if you mind clutter, I'd like to ask that question  here as well.

My husband's desk looks like a disaster to me, but his piles are somewhat organized, and when I clean off his desk, he gets irritated because he knew what was in each pile.

We're all a bit different... how do you work best?

janblencowe wrote
on 19 Aug 2009 7:59 AM

Great article! Short & not cluttered! LOL I love your thought “I'm organized in my thoughts but not with my stuff.”

because I am exactly like that!  

I can visually block out the clutter around me and work productively but clutter and disorganization is still a drag on overall flow and energy resulting in exactly what you wrote, "Clutter causes confusion, confusion leads to stress, stress can develop into avoidance, and avoidance often results in procrastination"

I've been working on and off for weeks decluttering & organizing my studio, which does not have enough storage space for paintings and frames. It's very challenging and stressful but needs to be done! Thank goodness it's plein air painting season & I'n not under pressure to do larger studio works right now.

Any tips or advice on storage systems from anyone would be appreciated! (Can you tell I'm desperate! LOL)

GretaM4 wrote
on 19 Aug 2009 8:03 AM

Lori,

I think I am basically like you. If there is chaos or clutter when I get to my easel I cannot function. The pallette must be cleaned, the brushes organised, there must be space on the table and caddy, and until that's done, no painting takes place.

Robin11 wrote
on 19 Aug 2009 8:09 AM

Lori, I blogged about this recently regarding small studios and how CRUCIAL it is to keep them organized in order to be productive.

My years of working as a secretary proved to me that the folks who claim there's order in the chaos are fooling themselves.

I carry that knowledge with me to my art life.  Being able to put your hands on what you need IMMEDIATELY guarantees a better flow and more work accomplished.  Decluttering isn't fun, but it saves more time.

Plus, I read somewhere that, on the whole, thin people are neater than heavier people.  Maybe this can be my weight loss strategy, lol!!!!!!!  Does neat mean I can have that ice cream? :D

Robin11 wrote
on 19 Aug 2009 8:09 AM

Lori, I blogged about this recently regarding small studios and how CRUCIAL it is to keep them organized in order to be productive.

My years of working as a secretary proved to me that the folks who claim there's order in the chaos are fooling themselves.

I carry that knowledge with me to my art life.  Being able to put your hands on what you need IMMEDIATELY guarantees a better flow and more work accomplished.  Decluttering isn't fun, but it saves more time.

Plus, I read somewhere that, on the whole, thin people are neater than heavier people.  Maybe this can be my weight loss strategy, lol!!!!!!!  Does neat mean I can have that ice cream? :D

on 19 Aug 2009 8:28 AM

I am the Queen of Clutter!!!!  I would love to have a neat studio but it's not going to happen. If I have a choice between painting or straightening the studio, I choose painting. I let things pile up until I can stand it no more, then I'll straighten up a bit. Somehow,  I always seem to know where everything is. I have extreme tolerance for clutter and it doesn't stop me from painting one bit.

bandolsek wrote
on 19 Aug 2009 8:40 AM

I was just telling another artist friend that I am feeling way-y-y better after cleaning out some of the clutter that I let accumulate in my studio. The load is off - I can even think better!  Now if I could only improve my memory, lol.   Great article as usual Lori!

on 19 Aug 2009 11:57 AM

K, I'm am so surprised that you call yourself the Queen of Clutter. I have imagined that your studio is spotless with everything in place. I guess that goes to show that some artists are amazingly successful even when their studio is cluttered.

My guess is that your clutter has its own sense of organization.

on 20 Aug 2009 1:36 PM

Very interesting subject, Lori! I completely agree with you: if things are visually disorganized I feel mentally disorganized and can't focus on what I need to do. As such, Organization has become my middle name. (You should see the color-coordinated, alphabetized, visually harmonious way in which I've organized all my Weekend With the Masters papers, binders, and folders! It's slightly scary.)

on 22 Aug 2009 12:33 PM

Allison, what a coincidence! I have put each of my projects into binders that are color coded. My blog binder is bright blue, my American Artist article binder is purple. Can't say whether there is any psychological meaning to the colors I chose for each subject, but it seems to be working.

Thanks for sharing - glad you've got the WWTM papers under control.

John Barnes wrote
on 20 Oct 2009 11:10 AM

My take on this topic, after teaching art at all levels for twenty years, is that different people organize their perceptions differently.  Some people can grasp the basic principles of perspective intuitively, while others just don't see it.  Similarly, some people can do math in their head while others can't.  It's not a matter of intelligence, or effort, it's just that people's brains deal with things in a different way.  

Take my wife and I for example.  I dislike clutter and can only deal with so much before I have to stop everything and tidy up.  When it reaches a certain level I feel it actually interferes with my ability to think clearly.  Why?  Because I am so easily distracted.  I take in everything around me, not in a focused way, but in general.  So, I am a terrible driver.  I'm always looking around at what is passing by.  

My wife is the opposite.  An excellent driver, she can focus like a laser cutting through any chaos around her.  She hardly notices anything but what she is attending to, and she knows what is in every seemingly random pile on her desk.  But she often overlooks the "big picture" and is less able to see things in an original perspective.  

This difference in the way we see the world shows up in all sorts of unexpected ways. She prefers to clean  first then organize while I insist on organizing before cleaning.  When I cook, I have to organize everything in portions ahead of time the way they do on cooking shows.  She just grabs stuff from the pantry and cooks.  When I finish the kitchen is clean.  She cleans up after.

So, bottom line ... don't worry about clutter.  Either you can deal with it or you can't.  You are the way you are. Just do whatever it takes to carry on.