Not With The Band: Messiness And Creativity, the Myth Is True!

Written by | May 12, 2015 16:09 | No Comments

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Cobain’s messy room

The world is messy, my house, my room, my desk are messy, I constantly fight against the entropy of the world around me and each day I am losing the battle… but am I right? Should I even fight it?

I have always wonder about the old myth linking creativity and disorder or messiness, and based on a few recent studies, I should definitively embrace the old myth: if you are messy, you may be more creative! And I am not trying to find bad excuses to avoid cleaning my room. According to this article in the NY Times by Psychological scientist Kathleen D. Vohs, experiments have proven that people left in a messy room preferred novelty while those left in a tidy room made more classic and conventional choices. Other experiments, asking people to create in these two different environments (messy or tidy rooms), have revealed that subjects left in messy rooms were 28 % more creative than those left in tidy rooms. The studies were published in Psychological Science, and results have been confirmed by other researchers ‘at Northwestern University, who found that subjects in a messy room drew more creative pictures and were quicker to solve a challenging brainteaser puzzle than subjects in a tidy room.’

As the author of the article suggests, this has to be due to the fact that tidiness has always been associated to what is commonly accepted by society – if you are orderly you conform to good standards and can be trusted, in other words you make a good impression – whereas messiness is associated to unruliness, rebellious people, who also think outside the box and come up with new ideas,… and apparently don’t care about what society think about them to be honest.

So being organized may not be that good after all,… if you are creative? We are so wrong with education in this case, because ‘being organized’ is what we teach our children all the time, and those who are not, are always ordered to ‘get organized’ if they want to be successful… what a joke, aren’t we killing their creative side in this case?

I couldn’t be happier that studies confirm the link between chaos and creativity. Of course being messy doesn’t make you automatically a creative genius, that would be too easy, but creative people are often naturally very messy. If this applies a bit more to visual artists, it works in every domain, look at the desks of all these creative people, from Einstein to Steve Jobs and Mark Twain, and look at the rooms of these visual artists,… I am in good company. For me it is often a question of priority, I prefer to invest my time and energy in creative things instead of cleaning!

And this has to be true for artists in general, musicians included. This could explain all these hotel rooms trashed by every rock & roll band, and this could explain these pictures of Kurt Cobain’s Los Angeles apartment! Should I add that, in the mid-60s, Ringo Starr apparently evicted Jimi Hendrix for being a terrible tenant, when he was renting a basement apartment on Montagu Square. But what does it say about Ringo?

Finally, to mention another musician I am very familiar with, this is how someone described Elliott Smith’s place, when he was living in the Snow White cottage in Los Angeles: ‘It’s charming and fairy tale. But the problem with the cottage was inside, it was just a fucking mess. It had lots of cool stuff – there was tons of recording gear, and there was a piano there and some guitars, some artwork he’d done – but it was like Tasmanian Devil there. It was crap everywhere; it was like they were having a yard sale inside. You’d come over to see him and he’d be like, ‘Sorry guys, this place is such a mess’, and it was funny because it’d recently been cleaned’.

Mess is often synonymous of adolescence, and it is also the period when imagination is the most fertile, the time when we rebel against tradition, rules and conformity… Didn’t Picasso say ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’? The problem is to keep this inner chaos intact, to stay messy when everyone else want you to get organized in order to conform to society… Keep it messy people, it’s the only way to let your creative side survive.

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