Art, the future, order and a secret praise of OCD

Order + Art In the architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton points out how the modernists and Le Corbusier were crafting their buildings and especially the "Villa Savoye" in an artistic eulogy to efficiency, the future, science and democracy. He writes: "they wanted their armchairs to evoke racing cars and planes, they wanted their lamps to evoke the power of industry and their coffee pots the dynamism of high speed trains". A modernist architecture that honour efficiency but essentially modernist houses conceived  "machine[s]-for-living"... villa_savoie2

Along the same obsessive lines, one could encounter the futurist art movement whose manifesto was an eulogy to speed and fast cars:

" 4) We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing auto-mobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

5) We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit."

The Futurist Manifesto


Order + The Future

In many ways, it is a vision that resonates with the future pictured in 'Minority report', 'Artificial Intelligence', 'I, Robot', 'Tron' or the interior of the 'Solaris' ship, the 'Alien' vessel or the 'Start Trek' enterprise. Orderliness, coherent colours, mostly uniform dressing codes.


Obviously this fascination for a future world where orderliness and speed would be the norm has been hijacked many times. Collective imagination has been overwhelmed by the Aldous Huxley and Azimov of the world. And our recent disillusion probably made this worrying future fade away. For the future came and it wasn't as smart as we'd thought it would be. We saw we had control over our smartphones, the web, TVs and robots and the future was no longer this impenetrable perfect 'machine'. On the contrary, it seemed quite clunky at times. In a constant beta. Today, yesterday's phones are already old, computers are done for... And the future feels like a series of leaps, too prompt to appear, yet even prompter to disappear.

Order + Evolution

Still, the aftermath of an orderly future's broken dream didn't get the best of us. We're doing fine... Most of the time.

A friend left me his flat a while ago. Poor guy. Ugly, disproportionate stuff disappeared, books got re-ordered by size and colour, odours disappeared ... You get the picture. Once done, I felt peace. Not only because the aesthetics of the place were now improved, but mainly, as a dear person pointed out, because it felt mine. A bit like a dog pees on a tree to make it clear who's the boss of the hoods, order was my way of taking ownership.

At its core, order is strange. It isn't too remote from a pathological need for cleanliness. And we all know a cleanliness freak. Of course, by 'clean' I'm not only referring to the neatness of the space around us. Some will perceive their body as 'dirty' after eating unhealthy food and go on a 'vomiting' trip to South America, accompanied by a 'shaman' of course, as if it was possible to clean one's very genes and cells by puking food ! We are the Only species that 'disgusts itself'. Probably because we're self-conscious.


But this is no criticism. If anything, it is a respectful though grave admiration of order freaks. Imho, orderliness (and OCD by extension maybe) is an evolutionary advantage. Untidy hunters used to lose their weapons. Orderly tribes were always ready for offence. And we probably obsess about order because it appeals to some inner human need. What better proof than art on the one hand and our envisioning of our future on the other. Still, the question is : To what inner human need does order appeal ?

Order = ?

"Left to its own devices, nature will not hesitate to crumble our walls, claw down our buildings, push wild vines through our walls and return every other feature of our carefully plotted geometric world to primal chaos. nature's way is to corrode, melt, soften, stain and chew on the works of man. And eventually it will win. [...] Our background awareness of inevitable calamity is what can make us especially sensitive to the beauty of a street, in which we recognise the very qualities on which our survival hangs. The drive towards order reveals itself as synonymous with the drive towards life"

The architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton

So maybe order is a statement and a tribute to human resistance ? Our constant strive to mould our environment, own our evolution and write our species' story. Maybe. But I think order stretches further into our beings. Be it the fasting / vomiting pilgrims of South America cleansing their bodies to elevate their souls, the Modernists who build their houses in a tidiness glorifying efficiency or myself ordering a room to 'feel better' ... Each of us, through this obsessive habit and behaviour, is bridging the physical world and the ethical and spiritual world. This a unique human feature.

We associate the physicality of the world with a higher state of things and operate in constant abstraction. Our minds are perpetual dot connectors and just as, in dream state, they mix all sorts of events and emotions in a big confusing soup, they constantly link ethics and feelings to perceptions of the physical world in the waking state. This is probably why we're also able to appreciate or disapprove of art work:

"Buildings will strike as offensive not because they violate a private and mysterious visual preference but because they conflict with our understanding of the rightful sense of experience - which helps to explain the seriousness and viciousness with which disputes about fitting architecture tend to unfold."

The architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton

Maybe that very feature is also a queue as to how much we value order! Our minds can't have loose perceptions flying around with no point of reference so they immediately attach them to an emotion, a value or an ethical anchor. Maybe our unconscious is just a big cupboard... You know: A big one with many perfect squares and a special place and colour for each thing...



I feel better suddenly.