On Sunday, I happened to stumble on some photos of Francis Bacon’s studio. It made me feel a lot better about mine. His was really messy — a combination of never picking up, mental chaos, and compulsive hoarding. His canvases on their easels, where you could find them, were paragons of calm.
Through the Jungian (or perhaps familial) collective unconscious, my daughter, Sara, who has just arrived here from New York for the holidays, has been building her own photo collection of artists’ studios. Bacon’s mess is in there and so is mine.
I’ve always figured that a studio, as well as being an efficient workroom, can be a menagerie of life’s objects, reference, media and ideas-in-waiting. When checking out other artists’ studios, I’ve noticed that the filing of material can be either spatial or alphabetical/numerical. I’m of the spatial persuasion. I know the “general area” where things can be found. I was not present in school the day they covered alpha/numeric.
Somewhere over there on the bench, for example, I have a two-pronged tool for tightening the distributor cap on the 1926 Locomobile I once owned. The Loco was sold 35 years ago. I bump into the tool every so often and consider throwing it out, but the thought of using it for something someday holds me back. In a studio, you never know.
I’ve been in some studios that are as spit-and-polish as a Marine barracks. Pristine, virginal spaces make me realize my personal dysfunction and how I could have been a much better person.
Once, I entered a lady’s particularly magnificent, high-ceilinged, north-lit space, lovingly created by her third husband in the blush of their new marriage.
She assured me that work went on in there. Only one problem — I noted the calendar had not been flipped for three months.
Modest or stupendous, tidy or messy, the studio is a sanctuary of joy and love — a place where a unique person can do unique things. In an age of co-operation and consensus, of office cubicles and water-cooler gossip, the studio is the throne room of latter-day kings and queens. The only bad studio is the unused one.
PS: “This is the place of creative incubation. At first, you may find nothing happens there. But, if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.” (Joseph Campbell)
Esoterica: The currently popular field of “Chaos Theory” has applications in many disciplines. The theory states that “initial conditions” can yield widely diverging, desirable and often unpredictable outcomes. A good way to understand chaos theory is what psychologists call “the butterfly effect.” From an unlikely chrysalis a magnificent butterfly emerges. The all-too-common human instinct to tame chaos may also be key to creative flight. The messy artist puts her need for order into her art. Beauty, uniqueness, and personal joy are the result.
Don’t disturb the ecosystem
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
Seeing my studio you might think that I am very neat, but I really am not. What happens is that I get tantrums when painting goes bad, and then I turn around to find something to blame it on. Then I throw out anything I lay my eyes on that doesn’t look absolutely essential (husband has survived so far). My organizing system is patterny. I have a cupboard for anything paperwork-like, a desk for anything stationary-like, shelf for large objects, another shelf for anything toolish, and a nook for husbands and toys. I like to group similar things. I am bothered when a thing gets into a wrong pile. Maybe it’s a symptom of something. Luckily, that only takes precedence when things aren’t going well. On a happy day I couldn’t care less about spiders invading the schnauzer canvasses pile.
The studio is a stage where drama unfolds. Sometimes it’s a comedy, sometimes a tragedy, and sometimes all hell is breaking loose, and in my case that sometimes results in a cleaned studio and a pile of messy paintings being thrown out. The studio is an ecosystem that the artist is part of. Neat art can come out of messy places and vice versa, but it really can go any which way. It’s probably not a good idea to disturb the ecosystem while things are moving.
by Casey Craig, Wimberley, TX, USA
It is easy looking at Sara’s collection of photos to get a bad case of studio envy. When we added on to our house for my studio, I was working mostly as an illustrator and really only needed enough space for a drafting table and flat files. Fast forward several years later and I’m working as a fine artist and painting fairly large paintings. Though I often wish my studio was larger, I adore my little space, with colored floor tiles (which I painstakingly installed) and a sliding glass door that looks out to my back yard where I can see my German Shepherd napping in the sun. It is my sanctuary and as you so aptly put it “the only bad studio is the unused one.”
(RG note) Thanks, Casey. And thanks to everyone who sent Sara a photo of their studio to add to her collection. She really likes the wide angles that show the ambience. Sara’s photo show is here.
Time to hire a skip
by Sarah Clegg, Knutsford, UK
Have just seen that photo of Francis Bacon’s studio and can at last take comfort in the fact that myown isn’t the only artist’s ‘working space’ in history where you can’t actually see the floor for clutter or access it without having to climb over things. I sort of know where everything is (or should be!) but it really has reached the point where I need to hire a skip… Not to mention the fact that somewhere within the chaos is the only table in the house which I’d quite like to sit down at for Christmas lunch for once (if I can also unearth more than one chair, that is!)
Ambushed by the universe
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA
Actually, the butterfly effect in chaos theory refers to the possibility of a tiny fluctuation in the atmosphere, caused by a butterfly flapping its wings, creating a hurricane. One thing leading to another, as they say. But it is a good metaphor for what happens in the studio. Although in the case of Francis Bacon, it looks like the hurricane came first. I’m like you, whenever I see those pictures of his studio I feel better about mine. Art, after all, like science, is a process of creating order out of chaos.
But the butterfly effect, now that you mention it, describes pretty well what I call “the ambush.” For instance, coming home late one night from a sculpture session, not thinking about landscapes at all, I get out of the car to close the gate to my driveway and happen to look up at the sky. Jupiter and Venus were in conjunction, Orion and Taurus were up, the sky black and clear– and then headlights come over the hill. It was that “click” when you know it’s a painting. Ambushed by the universe. Then a few weeks ago I go out back at dusk to get a screw driver and noticed that my Prius, my van, and the light in my sculpture studio form the lower part of a parabola. Those cars have been parked there forever and I never noticed this before. Then a flock of wild geese flew over, completing the parabola. Another painting and animation.
When I deliberately, consciously, try to make order out of chaos, I almost always fail. I’m like the butterfly trying to whip up a hurricane.
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Between order and disorder
by Lynda Lehmann, NY, USA
Because I am often overwhelmed with a stream of creative ideas and impulses (that are not necessarily either good ideas or bad, if one is to bring critical thinking into the subject) I’ve developed a habit of jotting my ideas onto sticky notes which by now, paper the walls around much of my home. In similar fashion, my living room and dining room are lined with piles of paintings so that there is no longer any available space for furniture. So I guess, in a sense, my studio has escaped the confined space of our third bedroom and taken over the abode, after all.
I’ve tried notebooks, but they too become scattered and I can never find the right one. As my art interests and agendas are many (painting, art and stock photography, digital art, writing), the profusion adds to my perennial confusion.
So I walk the thin line between order and disorder, while many of my unattended ideas fade from the tiny squares of paper they have been committed to, before they have reached the light of full articulation. I’d like to get organized, but then I will have even less time for art.
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
Having your own (studio) space where you can work is a benefit for creating. It doesn’t have to a big space, just a place where you feel comfortable and at peace; free from possible interruption, free from noise or outside visual stimulation.
Some artists like lots of clutter, the feeling of having stuff near and handy. Supplies nearby, easy to get to and use. Others like the pristine atmosphere clutter free where there is room to move around unfettered; an austere space that only contains the essentials for the task at hand. Whatever the dynamic, it is what works for you that is important in any space no matter the size.
The space I now occupy can best be described as organized clutter. When I enter this space it’s like coming into a room of old friends. My pictures, books, supplies stationed around on shelves, warm my heart where I get a feeling of excitement. My easel, at the center of it all, waits to securely hold the next potential masterpiece. There are spaces I’ve seen in magazines of famous artist’s studios that give me a sense of envy and want, but I know the space isn’t the central thing for creativity. For when I am working, space actually disappears. I go into my mind and any semblance of place isn’t a factor anymore. True, in the back of my mind, the initial coming in affected my attitude and manner, but after I start working, the space melts away and there is only me, the canvas, my thoughts and the process.
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Find your fit on the scale
by Suzette Fram, Mapel Ridge, BC, Canada
I think organization versus disorganization is a very personal thing. For me, chaos and disorganization bother me after a while. The chaos outside begins to create chaos inside (of me). The feeling of being out of control begins to take over and leaves me unsettled and anxious. So I tend to avoid an accumulation of clutter around me. I am not a neat freak, as maintaining a clutter-free environment would be too much pressure.
Lately I’ve noticed that my studio is becoming quite disorganized and it’s beginning to bother me, so it’s time for some cleaning up and reorganizing. It’s easier to keep things organized when they are organized to begin with. The more disorganized they are, the more difficult it is to maintain any semblance of order.
So, it’s a matter of personal comfort. Some live quite happily with clutter, find comforting even; others, like me, find it disquieting and distracting. The key is knowing where you fit on the scale. For me, a small amount of clutter within a generally organized space, does the trick.
Another meaning entirely
by Noel Leone, Pasadena, CA, USA
I enjoy your writings and am often tempted by something you say to write you back. This time, however, it is a necessity.
Over the last year I have begun to teach myself how to make fractals on the computer. While learning this art form, I became interested in chaos theory. On the Net I have found many explanations about exactly what chaos theory means. I recorded them on a small voice recorder, and I use them to put myself to sleep at night.
I have to tell you that you are way, way, way off about what chaos theory means. Chaos theory does not have anything to do with out of control, erratic, sloppy, disorganized, completely random behavior or activity. The word “chaos” by itself, does connote that definition, but chaos theory has another meaning entirely.
The Butterfly Effect has absolutely nothing to do with a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. When you read its definition and where the name came from, you will gasp for breath, as I did when I first read it. The meaning is almost unbelievable. However, the meaning of the Butterfly Effect does go a long way toward explaining the importance of “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” which also does not mean what you suggest in your letter.
I have included some links to the sites I have learned from. One of them, takes the science of chaos theory, applies it metaphorically to psychology and human behavior, and then goes off into the cosmos. I think Yale University has a Chaos Theory site as well. Some of what I found on the Net is poorly written with a few sentences that do not make any kind of grammatical sense. If you have any interest, you can look over these things and find out what a wonderful branch of science this is.
In a nutshell, chaos theory is the analysis of nonlinear systems. It is the study of how a nearly imperceptible incident, event, or movement, at the inception of activity of a system, when repeated over and over ad infinitum can cause enormous, unpredictable, and unimaginable results.
I am a retired kindergarten teacher, a potter, and a photographer. I started learning how to make fractals because I had packed up all my belongings to move to Washington and had to find some other kind of art to work on while I waited for my house to sell. I am not a math/numbers person, but I was determined to find out how manipulating numbers could make such gorgeous art via a computer.
If you do a search for fractals on flickr, you will see what chaos theory looks like when it is graphically shown. This will lead you to the Mandlebrot Set and other fractals.
I personally think you will find this visually much more interesting than I am making it sound. Once you see how chaos actually causes patterns to develop, and how is not random at all, I think you will find it fascinating.
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Not all art needs to be great
by Anne Copeland, Calimesa, CA, USA
Some friends and I — at least one of them is a professional artist with formal training — decided to get rocks and paint words and symbols on them and leave them around for others to find.
This was definitely not by any definition “great art,” but I was thinking about how the spirit can soar and feel as though it can fly as high as it wants to when we are creating, no matter how insignificant the creation. Our joy was first going to riverbeds and old ruins and hunting down the rocks one by one — gleefully sharing them with each other when we would find one with a unique shape or colors or texture. And then there was the ceremonial carrying them home and washing them all and feeling the surprise of seeing new things exposed to the eye as the dirt came off of them.
And on the night we painted, we had joyful music turned up and one of us would occasionally get up from the table and dance around gleefully. We shared the silly things we had painted and drank wine and shared snacks. There was such a childlike innocence in this task we set before ourselves.
Later in the evening, when the acrylics had finally set, we all set out like little children with our baskets, leaving them in this yard and that. We had found an area up in a canyon where some other happy soul had also created a different kind of rock art, and we left some of the rocks up there, as if communicating with that person whom we may never meet in person.
When it was all done, there was this feeling of having captured a sort of innocence and joy that a painter might feel when he or she is starting out because the artist has not learned anything different yet. I think there is still a glow in all of our spirits. We waited with a hope to hear that people had found the rocks, and indeed, they did in most cases. It was a great sense of a new community spirit as people got caught up with letting us know they found rocks in their yards. I notice that all the rocks are still sitting in the yards in special places as we left them. Not great art; it will never make it into a gallery or exhibit, but it has a greatness in a sort of spiritual experience it created that can never be duplicated.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Studio dynamics…
Featured Workshop: Doug Mays
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Margaret Stone of Panama City Beach, FL, USA, who wrote, “I will say, for me, that very often walking into a neatly arranged studio is like an eraser on the blackboard of my creative mind…”
And also Jackie Knott of Fischer, TX, USA, who wrote, “Function is the only thing of importance. I saw this statement embroidered on a pillow once: ‘A tidy house is a sign of a misspent life.’ ”