How To Marry Minimalism And Messiness

Sometimes it’s hard to live with contradictions, but then most of us juggle many dimensions. For instance, I consider myself sort of an armchair minimalist. My wife and I keep a tidy, clean, uncluttered house.

I wear simple, interchangeable clothes. When I travel, I pack light. My art studio consists of one bedroom. Just an easel, drafting table, chairs, book cases and a closet with neatly arranged art supplies.

My art studio

I love the simplicity of minimalism and keeping things in my life as simple as possible. As a result, decision making is easier and I can focus more on my art and writing.

The contradiction is that when it comes to artwork, I’m drawn to a degree of messiness. I like loose paintings over tightly rendered pieces. I like “sketchy” cartoons more than “cleanly” executed ones.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about. Like a ton of other people, I admire the cartoons of Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes). He employs a clean style that leverages strong contrast, clear lines lines and almost no cross hatching.

iPhone photo from one of my Calvin & Hobbes books

In contrast to Bill Watterson’s work are the looser, sketchy comics of George Herriman’s famous strip “Krazy Kat” (interestingly, Bill Watterson is a big fan of George Herriman’s work).

iPhone photo from one of my Krazy Kat books

Then there’s one of my favorite cartoonists, the late Jeff MacNelly (he passed away in 2000). His detailed, fleshed out editorial cartoons are the opposite of minimalism. More like maximalism. His intricate, delicate crosshatching produced wonderful shading and depth. Here’s an example.

iPhone photo of a Jeff MacNelly cartoon from my collection

As much as I admire the simplicity and strong contrast in Watterson’s work, I prefer the sketchy, less clean look of MacNelly’s and Herriman’s work.

When it comes to fine art, I prefer looser, more sketchy paintings to realistic and photorealistic work. Somehow, looser work seems to convey more of the artist’s expression. A less finished but more honest reflection of the artist’s hand.

So what gives? How can a guy who embraces minimalism on the one hand, favor messy, sketchy artwork over cleaner, tighter artwork?

The answer is that human beings are complicated. As much as we read self help gurus and their prescriptions, the reality is that there is no unifying theory for better living. People are all different. We have different tastes and many dimensions. Some are contradictory.

As for marrying the two worlds of minimalism and messiness, I think the answer lies in complements. In paintings, we find that complementary colors help unify a piece. In music, we find that complex passages work better when other passages are quieter, more restful.

If you’re like me and you strive for minimalism and simplicity in your life, that’s fine. The trick is to not take it to extremes. In fact, leave just a little room for the opposite. Something to complement all that orderliness.

One thing I’m starting to work on in my artwork is to render some passages realistically and leave others more abstract. The result is a kind of tension that makes the painting vibrate more. It’s more interesting, to me, than a highly finished photorealistic piece.

Most people develop a sort of approach to life. A philosophy for how they choose to live. This is a good thing, because it acts like a map, showing us the way.

For me, it includes minimalism and simplicity. But whatever your philosophy, leave a smidgen of room for its complement. Maybe even its opposite. That’s how I married minimalism and messiness, and I’ll bet a similar approach will help you in your life as well.

Now what?

I’m John P. Weiss, fine artist and writer. Get on my free email list here to receive the latest artwork and writing.

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