Recently I had the opportunity to tour Andrew Wyeth’s studio at the Brandywine Conservancy in southeastern Pennsylvania. I love the Brandywine River Museum; the exhibitions always show such an appreciation for the tie between nature and art, and the setting of the facility is itself worthy of a visit. They have tours of not just Andrew Wyeth’s studio, but also N. C. Wyeth’s, as well as the Kuerner Farm, which appeared in countless Wyeth paintings. It is one of my favorite museums, and it was inspiring to see where – and how – Andrew Wyeth worked.
I especially loved how the aesthetic of his studio matched the aesthetic of his art so closely.
I only wished I could have timed my visit to coincide with a demonstration of how Wyeth mixed his tempera paints. I doubt I’ll be cracking open eggs for painting any time soon, but it would be very cool to see how it worked.
While I don’t have my own artistic space, I find that I take a lot of care with the aesthetics in my home office, where I study and write philosophy, theology, poetry, and literature, and where I paint, sketch, and craft. I aim to keep it clean and organized, but in reality its mostly just piles of books and notes on the floor in semi-purposeful chaos, jars of paint brushes and pens, bits of memorabilia and photographs around me and on my book shelves, canvases leaned against things around the room, old birthday cards, junk mail, and the usual flotsam and jetsam.
While I love that I can look around and see myself reflected in my work space, even when I clean it up it sometimes gets to be too much. In all the mess I get distracted from my primary projects, starting new ones before the old are complete. Sometimes I get too overwhelmed by the task of organizing my chaos, and pack my things up to work in a more focused environment, heading to the local library, campus study spaces, coffee shops, etc. I’ve tried normal methods of decluttering, but it never really lasts.
When it comes down to it, I like my messes and my chaos more than the clarity of an empty desk. When I get too organized and pristine, it’s too blank and bland. For a long time, this made it difficult to understand what I was looking to achieve; if the office was too messy, I couldn’t concentrate, but if it was too clean, it was uninspiring. If it is too much of a hassle to find my old notes on Plato’s Republic, I’ll go on without them. And if my paints are buried in a closet, they won’t call me to create.
After seeing Andrew Wyeth’s creative space, I decided take a different approach to spring cleaning. Everything in Wyeth’s studio caters to his creativity; everything serves a function or reflects his process, but there’s nothing artificially minimalistic or sterile about it. All of his paints and supplies are readily available and his sketches and studies are pinned all over the room. While I know that this is a bit of re-creation, curated by skilled museum employees, I find the the presented version inspiring. nothing in the room is excessive or pulls focus from the task at hand, but you can still see Wyeth and his creativity reflected in the space. It’s messy, but it’s productively messy.
So in my spring cleaning, I pulled out every book that didn’t inspire me and completely reorganized my collection. My husband and I still have four tall bookshelves full, so it was probably time to thin things out a little. I decluttered my office supplies, moved my photos and memorabilia to other living spaces, reorganized all of my art supplies, and left myself with only my favorite writing supplies, my most useful notes, and most usedreference materials. But I also pulled stuff out of drawers and closets for display. I made sure my notebooks were all visible and that my sketch pads weren’t stuck on a high shelf I can’t reach and never see, but stored within arms reach of my desk chair. Now when it gets messy, it’ll be a mess I’ve created, and not just one that’s piled up around me.
It’s still a work in progress, but I feel like I am on my way to cultivating a conducive creative space for myself. I’ll never have as cohesive a space as Wyeth, but I am alright with that. My office is where I work, study, write, read, paint, draw, take notes, wrap presents, blog, and more, so it has to be a bit more multi-purpose. But I will still keep Wyeth’s studio in my mind as something to which to aspire.