Most of us seek order in our lives, or at least a sense of order. We want to believe that there are things we can assume and expect and even, if we’re really fortunate, control. Yes, those whose lives full of action and unpredictability and chaos would seem to exclude the possibility–extreme sports aficionados, high-powered businesspeople, rodeo clowns, astronauts, oil-rig roughnecks and those raising toddlers–look for order in their own ways so as make sense of their place in the universe. It might be in simple things like organizing the spice cabinet or sock drawer with obsessive neatness; it might be in the form of how they interact with people outside of the job, or it may be entirely internalized because inside is the only place they can see where they can exert their own opinions and desires and beliefs to the fullest extent.
In art, it’s often what differentiates in its subtle ways between the immature and the mature artist or designer or craftsman. It’s expressed as the creation of thoughtful balances or deliberate imbalances that succeed in creating the visual unity or tension in a composition, between colors, textures, distinct subjects and objects, or other elements of the work. While it’s undeniably true when disgruntled viewers look at abstract and non-objective artworks or some kinds of highly quirky contemporary designs and say “My five-year-old could’ve done that”, it’s equally true that the most sophisticated five-year-old will likely only do so by chance, and then only once, whereas the mature artist usually had a purpose, a process by which he was tweaking the tools and techniques to achieve something that might have as little chance of connecting with any individual viewer as that smarty-pants kid’s work but has a thousand times better the chance to succeed in what the artist intended and is, to boot, repeatable. To live on the less visibly ordered side of the equation is to risk losing communication with a potential audience, but for some artists, that is a worthy risk, most especially because the audience they do reach will be the more attuned to their visual language and will respond in kind.
In truth, the most conventional and marketable of artists and designers may have broader appeal, but can be just as off-putting to some viewers and would-be customers as any avant-garde members of the species. Order, as it happens, is in the eye of the beholder at least as much as is attractiveness in art.Consider the Desk. Nearly everybody who owns or works at one creates his own environment there, because it’s somewhat controlled, controllable space. For some, the orderly desk is a perfect puzzle, each single item in a particular position on a particular bit of real estate thereon or therein. Some are always en route to that Ideal but never entirely there. And some have desks that look remarkably like bomb sights. Yet never assume that this is truly disorder. I have known people with desks whose archaeological depths of debris and deconstructivist demolition could easily hide the crown jewels, a body, or a small automobile and yet who, when they wanted a particular piece of paper or the mini-stapler, instantly knew the precise spot from whence it could be excavated. That’s order of a higher order.
What all of this means in the grand scheme of things is that it’s merely a set of constructs or ideals that varies so greatly from person to person and time to time that we’re all probably best served by finding whatever forms work for us individually and then allowing ourselves the flexibility to understand and tolerate others’ sense of order or disorder, whether we approve of it or not. Mostly, it won’t lead to apocalypse–and if it does, who among us will remain to worry about it? Maybe the ones with the monstrous, mountainous desks, if they can duck and cover under them fast enough. More likely, we will all muddle along as we’ve always done, some of us fascinated with baskets and boxes and cubbyholes and patterns and polish and others delighting in their weirdly convoluted and inscrutable tangles of Stuff.
And nobody Wins or Loses–except if you count losing that one danged Thing that you’ve been hunting for in the pile forever and ever (usually until realizing it is in your left hand pocket).