Following the Netflix craze of The Tidying Up ethos, pioneered by Marie Kondo, posits that in order to
lead a happy and clutter-free life you should gather your belongings and keep only the things
that bring you happiness and spark joy. Whilst it seems valid for Kondo to suggest that reducing our excessive belongings to a collection of well-meaning and important items, it does raise the question as to whether it can truly be applied to highly emotive objects such as art and literature.
As an avid book hoarder, I was obviously outraged. Not my precious books that I’ve piled to the ceiling that have gathered dust from lack of attention, I declared. Does Kondo’s ethos not trivialise the function of books and pieces of art to merely bring us joy? Are art and literature not reflections of the human
condition that cannot be defined by a singular emotion? Surely the didactic nature of such artistic creations means that they bring us so much more than joy?
Does Kondo’s ethos not trivialise the function of books and pieces of art to merely bring us joy?
Joy is not the only emotion we feel as human beings, nor should it be. Just because a book or painting doesn’t spark a sense of joy within us, does not mean we should just disregard it as something not worthy of possession. Are other emotions not equally, if not more important than the feeling of joy? Art and literature itself can stem from, and produce, a plethora of emotions. From anger, sorrow and guilt, to lust, hope and joy. Reading books and looking at art allows us to explore experiences that we can resonate with beyond our daily lives. Therefore, to boil down our ownership of books and artwork to those that make us feel happy would be to remove ourselves from the reality of human emotions that no one can be joyful all the time, not even Marie Kondo. The creation of such art sometimes comes from places of pain and suffering. It is this emotional exchange between the creator and the audience that allows us to experience understandings of the world beyond our own reality, by submerging ourselves with different characters and themes.
emotional exchange between the creator and the audience that allows us to experience understandings of the world
Art and literature are designed to challenge us and our preconceptions of the world around us. After visiting the Don McCullin exhibition at the Tate, I can confirm that seeing images of death, disease and destruction did not spark joy within me. What it did make feel, however, was woeful and guilty but with a desire to change. McCullin’s presentation of the atrocious way we treat others within the context of conflict is indicative of how artists simply cannot adhere to Kondo’s joy sparking methods
because sometimes, joy is a distant reality far from the reach of the victims of our actions.
Ultimately, it is the act of reading books or looking at art that sparks joy, not the physical objects themselves. Applying the Marie Kondo effect to art and literature would be counterproductive and unnecessary. They produce a multitude of complex emotions beyond joy that empowers us to
understand others and ourselves better beyond the status quo.