Creative serendipity – the art of finding what you didn’t know you were looking for

The current trend of tidying up and throwing away is all about creating order and simplifying your life.  De-clutter and your life will be happy. Japanese writer Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (the KonMari method – only keep things that give you joy and fold your underwear origami-style) and more recently “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Swedish grandmother, Margareta Magnusson, have been trying to impress on us the need to pare back to make life easier for ourselves and for others.

While I acknowledge that I need to de-clutter – I have a garage full of boxes of things and stuff that are no longer used but perhaps one day will be and often feel a stifling sense of being hemmed in; I have way too many clothes and shoes that I no longer wear and a study full of books, some of which are re-read or picked up or used as reference material; shelves of beautiful art books and art magazines and boxes full of work/teaching material.  Then there are storage boxes full of art-making material: oil paints and mediums, acrylic paints and mediums, gouaches, brushes for all the different types of paints, pastels, charcoals, a printing press, paper (drawing paper, watercolour paper, printmaking paper), printing inks, copper plates, etching tools.  And then there are many small boxes full of bits and pieces, mostly paper, that I have collected and used in my collages including Japanese Chiyogami paper, old letraset sheets (typeface transfers), images cut from magazines, gold leaf, stick-on dots and stars, old rubber stamps.  A wondrous mix of odds and ends.

I’m sure if I had a proper studio things would be better organised and arranged for easy access.  As it is, I rely on having to put things away into large plastic tubs and a variety of boxes once I’m done with a project which does make finding things difficult.  A short while back I spent days looking everywhere for my gouaches and then thinking I must have thrown them out in the last move, went and bought some more only to find my box of gouaches the very next day.

Sometimes though in my searches for things I find visual art pads and sketch pads with collages I’d completely forgotten about, or partly-finished. They often inspire me to do something else.  For collage work it’s often a case of coming across random items and thinking they might work well.  It’s whatever catches your eye and your fancy. Making a collage is all about putting together a range of disparate elements on a page.  There is often no plan, it simply evolves. It’s what I love about working in collage.

American collage artist, Lance Letscher avoids organising his boxes of source material so that he can find unexpected things when he starts searching; he depends on the chaos of stuff, of things lying around. Irving Welsh is also in favour of chaos and deliberately doesn’t organise his music collection:

“I don’t organise my CDs and vinyl by genre or alphabet anymore …. Having it all haphazard means I can never find what I want, but the benefit is that I always find something else, which is cool.  I believe that art is as much about diversion as focus and planning”. In her autobiography Agatha Christie talks about the importance of messiness when re-visiting her chaotic notebooks:

“ [If] I had kept all these things neatly sorted and filed and labelled, it would save me a lot of trouble.  However, it is a pleasure sometimes, when looking vaguely through a pile of old notebooks to find something scribbled down, as Possible plot… with a kind of sketch of a plot.  What it’s all about I can’t remember now; but it often stimulates me, if not to write that identical plot, at least to write something else.”

So by all means, de-clutter and organise, but let’s not forget about the value of creative serendipity.

With acknowledgement to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter – a perfect example of randomness and coming across things you didn’t know you were looking for or were interested in.