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Annotated captions of Ursus Wehrli tidies up art in English

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waywithwords 00:00
00:04

My name is Ursus Wehrli, and I would like to talk to you this morning

waywithwords 00:04
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about my project, Tidying Up Art.

waywithwords 00:06
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First of all -- any questions so far?

tedtalks 00:11
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First of all, I have to say I'm not from around here.

waywithwords 00:14
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I'm from a completely different cultural area, maybe you noticed?

waywithwords 00:18
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I mean, I'm wearing a tie, first. And then secondly, I'm a little bit nervous

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because I'm speaking in a foreign language,

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and I want to apologize in advance, for any mistakes I might make.

tedtalks 00:30
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Because I'm from Switzerland, and I just don't hope you think this is Swiss German

waywithwords 00:35
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I'm speaking now here. This is just what it sounds like

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00:40

if we Swiss try to speak American.

waywithwords 00:40
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But don't worry -- I don't have trouble with English, as such.

waywithwords 00:43
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I mean, it's not my problem, it's your language after all.

tedtalks 00:47
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 00:49
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I am fine. After this presentation here at TED, I can simply go back to Switzerland,

waywithwords 00:53
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and you have to go on talking like this all the time.

tedtalks 00:56
01:00

(Laughter)

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So I've been asked by the organizers to read from my book.

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It's called "Tidying Up Art" and it's, as you can see,

waywithwords 01:06
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it's more or less a picture book.

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01:13

So the reading would be over very quickly.

tedtalks 01:13
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But since I'm here at TED, I decided to hold my talk here in a more modern way,

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in the spirit of TED here, and I managed to do some slides here for you.

waywithwords 01:23
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I'd like to show them around so we can just, you know --

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(Laughter)

waywithwords 01:29
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Actually, I managed to prepare for you some enlarged pictures -- even better.

tedtalks 01:32
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So Tidying Up Art, I mean, I have to say, that's a relatively new term.

waywithwords 01:37
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You won't be familiar with it.

waywithwords 01:39
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I mean, it's a hobby of mine that I've been indulging in for the last few years,

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and it all started out with this picture of the American artist, Donald Baechler

waywithwords 01:49
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I had hanging at home. I had to look at it every day

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and after a while I just couldn't stand the mess anymore

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this guy was looking at all day long.

waywithwords 01:59
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Yeah, I kind of felt sorry for him.

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And it seemed to me even he felt really bad

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facing these unorganized red squares day after day.

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So I decided to give him a little support,

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and brought some order into neatly stacking the blocks on top of each other.

tedtalks 02:15
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 02:18
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Yeah. And I think he looks now less miserable.

tedtalks 02:22
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And it was great. With this experience, I started to look more closely

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at modern art. Then I realized how, you know, the world of modern art

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is particularly topsy-turvy.

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And I can show here a very good example.

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It's actually a simple one, but it's a good one to start with.

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It's a picture by Paul Klee.

waywithwords 02:44
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And we can see here very clearly, it's a confusion of color.

tedtalks 02:48
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 02:50
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Yeah. The artist doesn't really seem to know where to put the different colors.

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The various pictures here of the various elements of the picture --

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the whole thing is unstructured.

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We don't know, maybe Mr. Klee was probably in a hurry, I mean --

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(Laughter)

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-- maybe he had to catch a plane, or something.

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We can see here he started out with orange,

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and then he already ran out of orange,

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and here we can see he decided to take a break for a square.

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And I would like to show you here my tidied up version of this picture.

tedtalks 03:22
03:27

(Laughter)

waywithwords 03:27
03:31

We can see now what was barely recognizable in the original:

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17 red and orange squares are juxtaposed with just two green squares.

waywithwords 03:38
03:39

Yeah, that's great.

waywithwords 03:39
03:45

So I mean, that's just tidying up for beginners.

tedtalks 03:45
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I would like to show you here a picture which is a bit more advanced.

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03:53

(Laughter)

tedtalks 03:53
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What can you say? What a mess.

waywithwords 03:54
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I mean, you see, everything seems to have been scattered aimlessly around the space.

tedtalks 04:01
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If my room back home had looked like this,

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my mother would have grounded me for three days.

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So I'd like to -- I wanted to reintroduce some structure into that picture.

waywithwords 04:11
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And that's really advanced tidying up.

tedtalks 04:16
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(Applause)

tedtalks 04:19
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Yeah, you're right. Sometimes people clap at this point,

waywithwords 04:21
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but that's actually more in Switzerland.

tedtalks 04:24
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 04:29
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We Swiss are famous for chocolate and cheese. Our trains run on time.

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We are only happy when things are in order.

tedtalks 04:36
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But to go on, here is a very good example to see.

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This is a picture by Joan Miro.

waywithwords 04:43
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And yeah, we can see the artist has drawn a few lines and shapes

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and dropped them any old way onto a yellow background.

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And yeah, it's the sort of thing you produce when you're doodling on the phone.

tedtalks 04:55
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 04:58
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And this is my --

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(Laughter)

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-- you can see now the whole thing takes up far less space.

waywithwords 05:06
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It's more economical and also more efficient.

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With this method Mr. Miro could have saved canvas for another picture.

tedtalks 05:13
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But I can see in your faces that you're still a little bit skeptical.

waywithwords 05:17
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So that you can just appreciate how serious I am about all this,

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I brought along the patents, the specifications for some of these works,

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because I've had my working methods patented

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at the Eidgenössische Amt für Geistiges Eigentum in Bern, Switzerland.

tedtalks 05:32
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 05:35
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I'll just quote from the specification.

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"Laut den Kunstprüfer Dr. Albrecht --"

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It's not finished yet.

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"Laut den Kunstprüfer Dr. Albrecht Götz von Ohlenhusen

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wird die Verfahrensweise rechtlich geschützt welche die Kunst

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durch spezifisch aufgeräumte Regelmässigkeiten

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des allgemeinen Formenschatzes

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neue Wirkungen zu erzielen möglich wird."

tedtalks 05:59
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Ja, well I could have translated that, but you would have been none the wiser.

waywithwords 06:03
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I'm not sure myself what it means but it sounds good anyway.

waywithwords 06:07
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I just realized it's important how one introduces new ideas to people,

tedtalks 06:12
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that's why these patents are sometimes necessary.

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I would like to do a short test with you.

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Everyone is sitting in quite an orderly fashion here this morning.

waywithwords 06:19
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So I would like to ask you all to raise your right hand. Yeah.

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The right hand is the one we write with, apart from the left-handers.

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And now, I'll count to three. I mean, it still looks very orderly to me.

waywithwords 06:32
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Now, I'll count to three, and on the count of three

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I'd like you all to shake hands with the person behind you. OK?

waywithwords 06:37
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One, two, three.

tedtalks 06:39
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(Laughter)

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You can see now, that's a good example: even behaving in an orderly, systematic way

waywithwords 06:52
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can sometimes lead to complete chaos.

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So we can also see that very clearly in this next painting.

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This is a painting by the artist, Niki de Saint Phalle.

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And I mean, in the original it's completely unclear to see

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what this tangle of colors and shapes is supposed to depict.

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But in the tidied up version, it's plain to see that it's a sunburnt woman playing volleyball.

tedtalks 07:20
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 07:23
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Yeah, it's a -- this one here, that's much better.

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That's a picture by Keith Haring.

tedtalks 07:33
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 07:37
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I think it doesn't matter.

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So, I mean, this picture has not even got a proper title.

tedtalks 07:43
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It's called "Untitled" and I think that's appropriate.

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So, in the tidied-up version we have a sort of Keith Haring spare parts shop.

tedtalks 07:54
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 07:57
08:00

This is Keith Haring looked at statistically.

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One can see here quite clearly,

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you can see we have 25 pale green elements,

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of which one is in the form of a circle.

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Or here, for example, we have 27 pink squares with only one pink curve.

waywithwords 08:13
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I mean, that's interesting. One could extend this sort of statistical analysis

tedtalks 08:17
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to cover all Mr. Haring's various works,

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in order to establish in which period the artist favored pale green circles or pink squares.

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And the artist himself could also benefit from this sort of listing procedure

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by using it to estimate how many pots of paint he's likely to need in the future.

tedtalks 08:34
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(Laughter)

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One can obviously also make combinations.

waywithwords 08:38
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For example, with the Keith Haring circles and Kandinsky's dots.

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You can add them to all the squares of Paul Klee.

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In the end, one has a list with which one then can arrange.

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Then you categorize it, then you file it, put that file in a filing cabinet,

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put it in your office and you can make a living doing it.

tedtalks 08:57
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 08:59
09:01

Yeah, from my own experience. So I'm --

tedtalks 09:01
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(Laughter)

tedtalks 09:04
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Actually, I mean, here we have some artists that are a bit more structured. It's not too bad.

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This is Jasper Johns. We can see here he was practicing with his ruler.

tedtalks 09:14
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(Laughter)

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But I think it could still benefit from more discipline.

waywithwords 09:20
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And I think the whole thing adds up much better if you do it like this.

tedtalks 09:24
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 09:30
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And here, that's one of my favorites.

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Tidying up Rene Magritte -- this is really fun.

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You know, there is a --

tedtalks 09:37
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(Laughter)

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I'm always being asked what inspired me to embark on all this.

waywithwords 09:43
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It goes back to a time when I was very often staying in hotels.

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So once I had the opportunity to stay in a ritzy, five-star hotel.

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And you know, there you had this little sign --

tedtalks 09:52
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I put this little sign outside the door every morning that read,

tedtalks 09:58
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"Please tidy room." I don't know if you have them over here.

waywithwords 10:01
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So actually, my room there hasn't been tidied once daily, but three times a day.

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So after a while I decided to have a little fun,

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and before leaving the room each day I'd scatter a few things around the space.

tedtalks 10:15
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Like books, clothes, toothbrush, etc. And it was great.

waywithwords 10:19
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By the time I returned everything had always been neatly returned to its place.

waywithwords 10:23
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But then one morning, I hang the same little sign onto that picture by Vincent van Gogh.

tedtalks 10:31
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(Laughter)

tedtalks 10:33
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And you have to say this room hadn't been tidied up since 1888.

waywithwords 10:39
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And when I returned it looked like this.

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(Laughter)

waywithwords 10:49
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Yeah, at least it is now possible to do some vacuuming.

tedtalks 10:51
10:54

(Laughter)

tedtalks 10:54
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OK, I mean, I can see there are always people

waywithwords 10:56
11:00

that like reacting that one or another picture

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hasn't been properly tidied up. So we can make a short test with you.

waywithwords 11:05
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This is a picture by Rene Magritte,

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and I'd like you all to inwardly -- like in your head, that is --

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to tidy that up. So it's possible that some of you would make it like this.

tedtalks 11:17
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 11:19
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Yeah? I would actually prefer to do it more this way.

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Some people would make apple pie out of it.

waywithwords 11:28
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But it's a very good example to see that the whole work

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was more of a handicraft endeavor that involved the very time-consuming job

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of cutting out the various elements and sticking them back in new arrangements.

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And it's not done, as many people imagine, with the computer,

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otherwise it would look like this.

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(Laughter)

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So now I've been able to tidy up pictures that I've wanted to tidy up for a long time.

waywithwords 11:59
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Here is a very good example. Take Jackson Pollock, for example.

waywithwords 12:02
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It's -- oh, no, it's -- that's a really hard one.

waywithwords 12:07
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But after a while, I just decided here to go all the way

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and put the paint back into the cans.

tedtalks 12:15
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(Applause)

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Or you could go into three-dimensional art.

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Here we have the fur cup by Meret Oppenheim.

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Here I just brought it back to its original state.

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(Laughter)

waywithwords 12:46
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But yeah, and it's great, you can even go, you know --

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Or we have this pointillist movement for those of you who are into art.

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The pointillist movement is that kind of paintings

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where everything is broken down into dots and pixels.

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And then I -- this sort of thing is ideal for tidying up.

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(Laughter)

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So I once applied myself to the work of the inventor of that method, Georges Seurat,

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and I collected together all his dots.

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And now they're all in here.

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(Laughter)

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You can count them afterwards, if you like.

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You see, that's the wonderful thing about the tidy up art idea:

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it's new. So there is no existing tradition in it.

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There is no textbooks, I mean, not yet, anyway.

tedtalks 13:36
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I mean, it's "the future we will create."

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(Laughter)

waywithwords 13:42
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But to round things up I would like to show you just one more.

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This is the village square by Pieter Bruegel.

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That's how it looks like when you send everyone home.

tedtalks 13:53
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 14:04
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Yeah, maybe you're asking yourselves

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where old Bruegel's people went?

waywithwords 14:10
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Of course, they're not gone. They're all here.

tedtalks 14:14
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 14:15
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I just piled them up.

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(Laughter)

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So I'm -- yeah, actually I'm kind of finished at that moment.

waywithwords 14:25
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And for those who want to see more, I've got my book downstairs in the bookshop.

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And I'm happy to sign it for you with any name of any artist.

tedtalks 14:36
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(Laughter)

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But before leaving I would like to show you,

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I'm working right now on another -- in a related field

tedtalks 14:47
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with my tidying up art method. I'm working in a related field.

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And I started to bring some order into some flags.

waywithwords 14:56
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Here -- that's just my new proposal here for the Union Jack.

tedtalks 15:03
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 15:08
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And then maybe before I leave you ...

waywithwords 15:13
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yeah, I think, after you have seen that I have to leave anyway.

tedtalks 15:17
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 15:20
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Yeah, that was a hard one. I couldn't find a way to tidy that up properly,

waywithwords 15:26
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so I just decided to make it a little bit more simpler.

tedtalks 15:30
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(Laughter)

waywithwords 15:32
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Thank you very much.

waywithwords 15:33
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(Applause)