I ran across a wonderful book last year called The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy. It’s a collection of paired photos by Swiss artist Ursus Wehrli that makes me laugh—and makes me think.
The back cover shows a red polka-dot bowl of a spectacular fruit salad with a dollop of whipped cream, spoon tucked in at the ready. On the front cover, all the component parts—bowl, spoon, blueberries, slices of apple, kiwi, orange, and banana, the dollop of whip cream, and even the polka dots—are lined up evenly and methodically. It’s startling and very funny.
The photograph pairs inside are equally whimsical: a subway map with all the lines and dots reordered, and subway stops alphabetized; a parking lot, with all vehicles parked in colour-coded groups; a night sky with stars stacked in columns according to size.
One gives me pause. It’s an aerial shot of a huge sandbox strewn with plastic shovels and pails and watering cans and dump trucks. A solitary child sits in the midst, digging. This is a child at work, a child at play.
Across the page, the same sandbox is raked smooth. The pails are lined up next to a row of implements. Sifters, watering cans, and dump trucks have their own rows. The child sits on the edge of the pile, looking on.
Full disclosure: my house is often wildly untidy, and I would be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me. At the same time, I can see it’s a bit like that sandbox—people play here! I get to build a writers festival and a jazz magazine. I have kids who are musicians and artists and video game aficionados. We all read books and eat food and shower and sleep and brush our teeth. We ride bikes and laugh at one another’s jokes and occasionally mow the lawn.
We could certainly pause more often than we do to put things in order, but we are not living on the side of the sandbox.
I was thinking about this during this year’s fabulous Jazz Camp Faculty concert. At one point, the rhythm section was holding down a powerful repeating pattern and the trumpet, sax, and trombone were riffing wildly in all directions. It was exciting, chaotic, intense. Then all those voices came into full resonance again, and the tune settled down to reveal its component parts, orderly and contained.
Without structure, there’s no chaos. Without chaos, there’s no structure. One enlivens the other.
Here’s to a fall season with enough order to keep you happy, and enough mess to keep you engaged and creative.