(Video link here.) After we wrote about artist Tom Sachs’ practice of knolling, simple, incredibly effective steps he takes to neaten is very busy work space, we got an interesting comment from Kevin Neff, the engineer who helped us reason-out some of our vibrating bed experiments ages ago. He wrote:

So interesting. I had been wrongly categorizing Improvised Life as martha-stewart perfect, probably because of the nice pictures of the lab. I find there’s a huge pressure to have your house look like you just occasionally watch TV in the den but cook, eat, sleep, and live an a different house/apartment. 

I’m constantly struggling with partially finished projects and other tell-tale signs of my living my life in my own house/garage/yard…

Calder Studio 1941 Herbert Matter
Herbert Matter,courtesy of The Calder Foundation

Improvised Life as martha-stewart perfect???“. We feel like we spend much of our time UNDOING Martha’s insidious infiltration of ours and everyone we knows minds, what Kevin described so well as the  “huge pressure to have your house look“… essentially unlived in. That’s why we publish pictures of messy artist’s studios, write and post quotes about failure, and post images of our own messes, like the before-and-after image below of a wild day in our old space versus a cleaned-up photo shoot day.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

In honor of the REAL workspace, and to antidote the feeling that you constantly need to live a Martha life by not revealing partially finished projects and other tell-tale signs of my living my life in my own house/garage/yard…” we offer this wonderful film Herbert Matter made of Alexander Calder at work in his studio, and what that work is like from a child’s view.

Calder was incredibly prolific and his studios might seem chaotic to the outsider…

Herbert Matter, courtesy of The Calder Foundation
Herbert Matter, courtesy of The Calder Foundation

…We have heard that he knew where every scrap was…

Pedro Guerrero
Pedro Guerrero

The big lesson: whatever works for you is what works. There simply isn’t one right way, and classic notions of neat are not necessarily a virtue.

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7 replies on “Martha Antidote: Visit Alexander Calder in His Studio

  1. Ten days ago I moved all my worldly goods to a new home. Your post about knolling has helped me organize as I unpack (putting like objects together). My inner proofreader needs to make a comment. In the post about Tom Sachs and in this post you spell the word “knowling.” In the video it is spelled “knolling.” In the previous post I assumed it was an auto-correct issue. Since you’ve repeated the spelling in this post I now assume that it is deliberate. A quick internet search reveals that the word (and method) was developed at the Knoll furniture company (at least according to Wikipedia) so the “ll” spelling makes sense. My internet search also turned up these photos of knolled objects.
    http://theultralinx.com/2013/09/50-amazing-examples-knolling-photography/

  2. As a recently retired art teacher I can say my classroom and desk were very much like Calder’s studio. However, there IS a knolling to that creative side of ones’ brain and I always knew where I could find what I needed. The same is true for my small studio at home, that. much to my family’s chagrin, is even worse. Surprisingly my grandchildren also have managed to find their way around.
    This is just the creative way I work.

  3. Bless your inner proofreader’s heart. Big mistake on my part: a strange blindness. WordPresses proofreader is highly flawed and unable to figure out words as simple as “improvised”. Thank you!!1

  4. The key line here: “This is just the creative way I work”. We need to forage through our brain’s and find out if there are other voices telling us to do something (Martha Stewart or other media personalities…someone we look up to, etc) or if it is really OURS.

  5. Sally,
    I have the pleasure of looking Improvised lIfe often and have been privileged to see things I never knew existed, The film on Calder for instance took me into the studio and mind of this brilliant artist.
    As a photographer and artist I was deeply inspired by what I saw/watched. Thank you for opening up my eyes often and thank you for the inspiration you provide. Improvised Life has been a main stay for me and many. Thank you Sally for your generosity.
    Wishing you only the best,
    Fern Berman

  6. Well Fern. Thank you SO much. And for being part of Improvised Life’s totally wonderful community.

  7. Ahhhh, my Inner Proofreader can relax now!

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