When I lived in Paris, France in the summer of 1967 I like most visitors was overwhelmed by the heavenliness of the city especially its awesome structures. My passion for the clean lines of architecture however first awoke during the completion of construction of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario around 1970. It actually opened on June 2, 1969 two years later than initially scheduled (by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and his equally influential friend G. Hamilton Southam) to coincide with the celebration of Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. So enthused was I by the geometric lines of the building that I was prompted to sit by the Rideau Canal and draw pencil sketches of the sharp angles. The uncompromising simplicity of the structure captivated me.
There can of course be symmetry in more than uniformity which is why for example a “busy” room can still be balanced. I have as a result seemingly tottered between these two extremes, clinical geometry and tantalizing profuseness. Indeed the contrast of minimalism and abundance (and the possibility of mutual exclusion) has been a recurring theme of my life and one which has undoubtedly been the source of many of my personal dilemmas. In either case the preservation of the element of “cleanness” is imperative. There is for example a difference between “cluttered” and “busy”; the latter speaks to lavishness, the former to contamination.
Not surprisingly I suppose these artistic features have leeched into my psyche and physical consciousness. I am driven to synthesize the material world with my personal awareness sometimes to the point of preferring certain renditions of food not merely because of taste or texture but also because of simplicity and purity. I reckon that, given the inclination or purpose one could likewise argue that the purest scotch whiskey or vodka is also to be desired and I have no objection to that particular bent. Somewhere in even the tritest elucidation of the theme there can be found aspiration for clarity and exactness.
The process of embracing these refinements includes de-cluttering one’s life which I have discovered can encompass everything from basement junk to former acquaintances. While this has the appearance of intelligent application I am bound to confess that much of it is nothing more or less than natural evolution. That is, it is in our nature to shed, to refine, to diminish and ultimately to disappear though until we do there is the business of casting off what we’ve spent a lifetime acquiring by design or default. It might help to dignify the undertaking by cataloguing it as honing one’s skills, defining one’s personality. There is also the evident advantage of simplification. There was after all a reason that van Gogh lived such an austere life notwithstanding which his creations were so marvellous.
Nor is it an accident that he championed the equivalent of the modern day “selfie”. Turning the focus of one’s mind to one’s self requires definition; viz., clarity, resolution and acuteness. The whole point of our existence is to discover our place in this world. So why not rid ourselves of extraneous baggage?
Paring the surplusage from one’s life contributes to the facility of understanding it. In retrospect it is astonishing to observe how polluted our life has become over the years. Each wave or layer of acquisition, decoration and ornamentation has done nothing whatever to alter the nature of our being. At best it has been a metaphor of the then current state of our mind. At worst it is an expression of our current mania. Eventually we pine for the clean lines and pared-down planes of modernism. Let me be clear that this need not exclude our most treasured possessions, but it does require unshakable discrimination and sometimes brutal logic.