Order vs. Disorder

Here is something I think about a lot in life. I notice how much I like order around me, and how I like to organize things. Some of it is just clean vs. messy, but it goes deeper than that. It is rationality: calming, reassuring, relaxing.  It lets you rest. And, it helps you find what you’re looking for in less than a week!  But in art, too much order feels lifeless to me.  I like an over-arching order to a piece, but then I want the irrational, the uncontrollable, to show its illegible hand. There is something irresistible about disorder.

Like when I go to the book recyclers, the sense of diversity is almost overwhelming, especially if they have very old, very used, books. Books are innately so linear and rational and organized. When they are new, they are neatly shelved according to genre in clean new uniform bookcases. Discarded books are what happens after. They are torn and creased and spilled on, faded, maybe falling apart. Many of them are obviously from a different time, you notice by the cover design, illustrations, etc.  And then the age of the reader. You cannot help but think about all the people who owned all these books at different times in their lives. And all the books you owned at different times in your life. Its not neat and tidy anymore. Disorder has flung them in all directions and some completely random process has compiled them together here.

Whats weirder is how much I LIKE this dis-ordered-ness. Its fascinating.

But I digress. Back to order vs. disorder in art.

Who could illustrate this dynamic better than Lance Letscher? Letscher is a collage artist who, like myself, began with a fascination for paperback book covers.  Now, book covers, of all ages and genres and levels of wear, bring a lot of disorder to the table right away (see above digression).  What is genius, is how Lance can highlight all that wild diversity and yet bring it together into a unified piece.

In these first two early pieces, we notice a lot of different fonts, colors of fonts, sizes of fonts. We can see these are pieces of many different book covers. But with similar color and an underlying grid structure, the pieces really hold together. Notice that his cuts are not perfect, he is not strictly adhering to the cells of a grid, and how this gives his work a much more human feeling, which is echoed by the wear and tear of his materials. I love these because you really get the sense of all the different voices of used books.

letscher4.jpg                  letscher5.jpg

In these next pieces, Letscher’s use of color is much more disordered and creating strange rhythms. His alignments are less straight and there is more value punctuation. Less and less he is following a pattern and the work feels more energetic and unstable. For the adventurous, give this a try. Its very difficult to pull off the tame-but-wild quality he achieves here.  They feel as if they are barely holding it together.




This later piece is where even the grid order really starts to break down. The colors are scattered without reason, whole stacks are teetering. He brings a TON of disorder, of the irrational, but it is still holding together. It still reads as an intricate, alive, maybe tortured, whole. Pretty amazing.


To see more about Letschers work go to his website.  There is also a documentary titled The Secret Life of Lance Letscher coming out soon. Website for the documentary is here.

How do you play with order and disorder in your work?  In which direction do you like to lean?

Please share you thoughts!










6 thoughts on “Order vs. Disorder

  1. Oh Melinda, thank you for this post, it speaks directly to my artistic heart. I’m frequently teased for my orderliness, and old enough to know that it brings me peace and happiness. But walk into my studio and you will feel as if you met my alter ego. The thing that draws me back to the collage table is the pull of order vs disorder. I’d say that every piece I’ve ever made is about finding and playing with this very balance. Too much order, and the piece feels dead. Too much chaos and the piece falls apart. But oh- the search! Thank you for putting words to it.


  2. It’s interesting that the work on his website is much more disordered, even chaotic. I do really like the work featured above; the colors are more coherent even if the alignment is very free. It think people’s perception of his work could be affected by how much disorder they can look at without feeling uncomfortable or over-stimulated visually. The above pieces are just right – stimulating and fascinating.


    1. Yes, I think he is progressing deeper into the chaos part, which is inevitable as your artistic eye develops. Its like he is still using order but it is a complex kind of order that my eye sees but cannot understand yet. Rows and columns I can understand, but he is way beyond that now… isn’t it intriguing? I find the seeing the progression especially helpful.


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