Walking on a pathway in a wood in the late afternoon, an orange sun is flirting with the latticework, like a bus gambolling on the horizon. The trees are mysterious, clinging, cobwebby — in silhouette like actors moving. Fog fills the spaces. The words of Emily Carr when she was looking at a forest: “Perfectly ordered disorder designed with a helter-skelter magnificence.”
I’m working on the yin and yang of order. How important is order? The conventions of art are filled with rules of order: “Always lay out the colors of your palette in the same order.” “Draw first, then under-paint, then put fat over lean.” “In watercolor, creep up on the subject or, on the other hand, put down your strongest motifs first.” We’ve walked this path a hundred times. I’m re-examining the recipes.
In art, queue-jumping is the norm. Commissions, for example, need not be completed in the order in which they were requested. In the production of art, work and its quality are at their best when the artist is ready for the task. And every task is approached with an open mind. Linear systems are suspect. What of recipes and bags of tricks? Looking at your work afresh in the cold grey light of dawn, things that you thought you were going to have to do, you don’t have to do. And things that you didn’t know you have to do, you have to do. Think outside of the box. Think of the possibilities. Think what could be. Think on your feet.
Here in the fading light, dew is settling on my laptop. A grey field-vole, not yet into hibernation, moves through and along its grassy pathway, sorting its world. I’m dividing my world into two main kinds of artists: There are those who see the world in a state of chaos and need to put it into order, and there are those who accept the disorder and go with the flow. Somewhere, there’s music. A piano concerto. I’m thinking of Alfred Brendel: “Art gives a sense of order, life is basically chaotic, and there’s a tension between them. A sense of order comes from chaos and contains a bit of it, but it’s the sense of order that makes a work of art.”
PS: “The world is not to be put in order; the world is order, incarnate. It is for us to harmonize with this order.” (Henry Miller)
Esoterica: I promote a system called RPS (Relaxed Pressure Scheduling). More of an attitude than an orderly method, it invites the worker to keep leaning into the direction of interest and desire. A condition of calm is achieved by allowing the process itself to cause the pressure. The result is a feeling of workmanlike progress, remarkable throughput, and creative joy.
This letter was originally published as “The problem of order” on December 2, 2002.
acrylic on canvas 11 x 14 inches
Right on! (she said, chaotically ;) ) Thank you, another beautiful posting. I so do love them all.
This is one of my favorites! I even printed it and put it in my Quotes binder years ago. He always inspired me to move ahead and do better.
A mathematician studying the creation of art by a friend of mine, gave up and declared chaos theory was required to understand the process – while the product was anything but chaotic. My best work seems to come when I am out of control.
Was he trying to reinvent “paintings by numbers”? :-) There must be people out there trying to create a “computerised artist” who would churn out masterpieces.
Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki Actually, it was a serious mathematician trying to understand the creation of art. Lawrence Nickle was the artist… a dear friend, sadly passed on.
Phil Chadwick , that is fascinating, I would love to learn more about it, so sorry to hear the artist is not with us any more.
Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki I am sorry but that is about all I know. Lawrence was grinning when he told me the story.. two or three times.
The words of Emily Carr when she was looking at a forest: “Perfectly ordered disorder designed with a helter-skelter magnificence.” (Robert Genn)
I never heard the saying ,but I saved it ,I love it !
It is so satisfying to know that Robert’s letters and his art will continue to have a strong & positive impact long after the lights are dimmed and the actor has left the stage. This is a legacy we should all hope to achieve in our lifetime.
This letter is exactly what I needed to hear today, especially the third paragraph wherein I quote, “Commissions, for example, need not be completed in the order in which they were requested. In the production of art, work and its quality are at their best when the artist is ready for the task.” I’m saving this letter. Thank you!
Who ordered this chaos?
Henry Miller was right. My best stuff comes not from taking reality by surprise, but from being taken by surprise by reality. Art discovers the order in chaos.
It has often been said that the Universe is ordered chaos. This is not unlike my studio as I have frequently explained to my wife.
I love this!!!
I didn’t look closely and thought robin wrore this…:)
Is the book of Twice Weekly Letters out of print? Will there be another printing? I’d love to get a copy .
Hi Muriel, thanks for asking. The Twice-Weekly Letters is not out of print but temporarily unavailable for shipping while we re-configure our new site and distribution method for books. Thank-you for your patience, and for your friendship here.
sara genn THANK YOU, the pleasure is all mine! thk too for quick reply you’re a gem.
So happy to see a larger image of Robert Genn’s at the bottom of this page. Love his loose and suggestive style. The energy and the light!
“Perfectly ordered disorder designed with a helter-skelter magnificence. – I love that!
Chaotic Structure. Ordered Randomness. Controlled Mania. Sacred Geometry with a splash-dash of Insanity. Can’t seem to escape the fact that I’m usually both. I love chatting up mathematicians when talking about (my) art!
Thank you, Sara, for continuing to bring your father’s art/life wisdom to us. And for carrying on his tradition with your own astute observations in counterpoint to his.