Today I spent a lot of time cleaning my studio. It sounds weird, but sometimes I think taking a break from just making art and focusing on cleaning instead actually helps my creativity. For one thing, it’s a lot more pleasant to work in a clean, well-organized room rather than one where there is clutter and dust and you can’t find anything. I came across some sumi ink and markers that I had forgotten about and ended up using them for a big drawing (in progress). I had forgotten how nice sumi ink is- what a nice range of tones it makes, from subtle grey to deep black. Instead of trying to make something good I just played around with different brushes and pens, then added some pink marker as well. I don’t know why I’ve been so attracted to bright pink for drawings lately.
I think the brain works in funny ways and good ideas come to mind when you’re not really trying too hard to think of good ideas. Cleaning is physical and monotonous and mindless, but the brain seems to keep churning away at things behind the scenes somehow. I think cleaning is also inspiring because I usually end up spending a while rearranging the various art and objects that I’ve decorated my studio with. I think it’s important to do this once in a while. If you look at something day after day, you stop really seeing it. It becomes just a sort of background texture to your daily life that you stop noticing.
My studio is only about 10 feet square, but the walls are pretty well covered with stuff. Sometimes I start feeling claustrophobic and take a lot of it down, but in general I like having a lot of different things to look at. Some of it is my art, some of it is art by other people, some of it is random objects that I find interesting (and probably betray a latent desire to make work that is more assemblage/sculptural). Almost all the picture frames have little odds and ends resting on the top edge of the frames.
This room is becoming more and more like my own miniature museum- a weird combination of natural things like rocks and shells and old rusty things.
It’s odd- I’m not a religious person, but I really like a lot of traditional religious art. Here’s prints of a wall painting from a Greek Orthodox monastery and a Tibetan Buddhist thangka.
And an Eastern Orthodox icon (along with a rusty metal thing and a glass and metal circle I got from this old baby scale that my mom had sitting around for as long as I can remember)
Sometimes I feel a conflict between my inner collector and my inner minimalist. I like reading these minimalist blogs where people try to get rid of all but X number of things, and live using only one bowl and one cup, and have nothing whatsoever on their walls. Part of me thinks that would be lovely. So simple and clean, no hours spent dusting all this crap and rearranging it. I like the idea of sitting in a pure white room with nothing in it and watching the sunlight make its way across the wall and change and shift. I appreciate the anti-consumerist ideal behind minimalism. Sometimes I just get so sick of stuff and how we all work our asses off to get more and more stuff that we don’t even have time to appreciate and how it takes ever more and more resources to provide all this ever-increasing stuff to an ever-increasing quantity of humans.
But there’s a stronger part of me that just likes stuff. Not just any stuff, but these random things that I find interesting and inspiring for unknowable reasons. I think the important thing is not to try to have no stuff, but to be really mindful of what stuff you do have. It’s impossible to live and not consume anything, but you also don’t have to be a mindless stuff-gobbler. While cleaning today I remembered a quote by good old William Morris that pretty much solves the whole dilemma for me- “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I love this because it’s not just “have nothing in your house” and it’s not just “have any old crap in your house.” It suggests a careful weighing of the things you have in your house- is it useful? Is it beautiful? Usefulness is easier to measure objectively, hence “know to be useful.” I love that he said “believe to be beautiful” because it leaves room for individual tastes. I love my odd assortment of religious art and rusty things and rocks and shells, but someone else is probably going to look at these photos and go “ugh, look at all that crap.” And that’s awesome.
(Greek worry beads and an old compass I got at Obscura)