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Our tendancy to organise

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

Painters notoriously like to get some colour on a blank canvas as quickly as possible because starting with a clean, white space is very hard. Why?

Well, Sean Tucker explores beautifully in his book ‘The Meaning in the Making’ [1] why we are driven to create (I highly recommend this book if you are in any way creative, and I think we all are) and upfront he describes how as humans we are innately driven to create order from chaos. Please read the book for a much fuller and more eloquent description, but from this I understood that we are constantly trying to organise and take control of different aspects of our lives, and art is another way in which we try and make sense of our world. Once I got my head around this concept, suddenly a lot of things made sense.

It’s why it’s so satisfying finally getting a room tidied up, organising out a messy cupboard or getting the garden sorted out after winter. It’s also why starting with a clean, fresh canvas is difficult because you are starting with order; and it’s counterintuitive to interfere with that.

It’s also why I find it much easier to play around with whatever half-used materials are available and see what I can create, than to walk into a perfectly ordered art shop and purchase exactly what I would like. Brand new materials can be a bit scary and intimidating because they are beautifully ordered! I remember once as a child going to spend a gift voucher in an art store and being determined that I would try some new materials. The only way I could do this without being intimidated was to walk around with a basket and just grab random things that caught my interest without thinking too much about it. Then I got them home and tried to figure out what I could do with them - I created chaos and then tried to make order of it. Sort of like a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ for art (now wouldn’t that be a great TV show)!

We are happiest when we can find connections and link things back to a common origin (a friend of a friend is better than a stranger). It fulfils our need to restore order from chaos. Connections reassure us. I always tried to piece together the elements of science and make a story even though we can usually never definitively say that that is the story; we can only lay out the evidence. When an artist makes a piece of art, they bring different elements together so that these different elements work together, make sense…perhaps tell a story and make something beautiful.

Much like a piece of art, the brain takes many different inputs and makes sense of them. And we interpret the result based on our own personal experiences.

And we don’t just have this mentality with objects - we also apply it to the way we think. As children, we are taught how to sort things into discrete categories and this helps us make sense of them and understand what we are dealing with. And we keep trying to do this throughout our lives…but it isn’t always appropriate.

Biologists used to think that all living things could be organised into discrete categories but we then discovered that this system wasn’t appropriate, as the relationship of living things can better be depicted as a tree, where everything is ultimately connected.

We have a tendency to try to categorise people when it may be more appropriate to remember, as much as it goes against our innate tendency to ‘organise’, that every single person is different, everyone is capable of doing many things, and everyone responds to different things in different ways at different times.

I appear to be both a Human Biologist and an Artist. Two careers that I always thought were discrete and yet here I am. I started with an interest in people and this is where it has led me...

[1] Tucker S. The Meaning in the Making. Rocky Nook; San Rafael, CA, 31 August 2021.

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