Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, September 27, 2013


Johann Michael Bretschneider (1656-1727), Scholars in a study. Poznan, National Museum in Poznan

These new studies of the relations between messiness and creativity are really interesting, but it raises two questions for me:

1) Does the correlation between messiness and creativity persist over time? The studies seem to focus on how people respond to messy rooms that they're exposed to for short periods. But what if the messiness were everyday?

2) Again over time, does it matter whether the messiness, or neatness, is yours or someone else's? One of my favorite Malcolm Gladwell essays — I have a great many unfavorites, but never mind — is one on "The Social Life of Paper", in which he notes studies showing that "pilers," people who pile up paper on their desks, are remarkably skilled at finding their stuff, even though to an observer the desk might seem utterly chaotic. It's hard to imagine that messiness could be anything but frustrating if you had no control over it.

So: an interesting study, but I'd like to know more. (It seems like I'm always saying that.)


  • Steve Baker wrote a good, introspective rumination on clutter — To Go About Noisily: Clutter, Writing, and Design, which appeared in Emigre 35 (Summer 1995), the "Mouthpiece" issue designed and edited by Anne Burdick.

    PDF here (with author's, publisher's and designer's permission).

    Something about the existential condition of living in, fighting against, adding to clutter.

  • John, thanks so much for this! Excellent stuff.

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