Order, Chaos, And Negotiations In Marriage

The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s new series on marriage. You can watch the special on DailyWire+.

Episode time: 9:44

Tammy and I collected a lot of art. This is part of beautifying the house, let’s say — not just putting it in order. I went online (on eBay mostly), and I looked at, I think, a million paintings. I looked at 300 or 400 paintings a day for six years, and I bought about 500 paintings. And for those of you who think you can’t afford art, art is free; taste is expensive. If you develop your taste, you can find art online for nothing. I bought collections of 40 Impressionist paintings from Russia for like $200 — $5 a painting. You can afford that, but you have to have some taste.

I would go in and look at hundreds of paintings and then I’d select like 20, and I’d print them out, put them on the floor, and then Tammy would come in, and I’d say, ‘Get rid of 15 of these. Which ones have flaws?’ She’d point out the flaws, and then we’d end up with a collection of about five, and I’d buy them. Then we put art all over the house — like 300 paintings. Some of them were pretty brutal because I bought a lot of Soviet realist art. Some of that featured Lenin and, you know, he was a very bad guy. And some of it featured war scenes, so there was a real harshness. I was studying propaganda and totalitarianism, and so that was kind of rough. Then we renovated our house and took all the art out, and then we got sick. The art didn’t make it back.

So we started to negotiate again about bringing the art in-house. And it was real tense for a while because Tammy had made the house bright and airy — because it was a dark house, semi-detached, without very many windows, hard to make it light — and she didn’t really want to have the war and propaganda paintings back. But I really liked some of them. They were very high-quality paintings and I had focused a lot on totalitarianism. So that was kind of a sticking point for us. And then I thought, ‘Well, maybe those paintings served their purpose. And they are kind of dark and we have a lot of other paintings, so maybe we could just decorate the house with the other paintings, and we could try that and see how it goes.’ So we decided to do that, and then we put up all the paintings. We had to make joint decisions that appealed to both of our tastes, and we actually had a really fun time doing it. Now there’s like 150 paintings back up in the house, and it’s a very vivacious place, and it’s well lit. I liked it before — before we did the last renovation — but it’s better now.

One of the bones of contention was, I was buying these often museum-quality paintings that were made by expert artists — because the Russians kept their traditional art capacity and skill going even during the Soviet era, although it was subverted to propaganda often — but many of these paintings were very high quality. They’re up on the walls, and we had little kids around. Then the issue is, well, can the little kids touch the paintings? And is now the house such a museum that nobody can have any fun in it? Our jointly negotiated solution to that was, we’ll put the paintings up on the wall and we’ll have the kids, and if the paintings get damaged — apart from stupidity on the part of the children which we’ll stop — that’s life. They’re not behind glass. This isn’t a sterile environment. It’s a welcoming environment. Plus, it turns out that oil paintings on canvas are unbelievably tough, even if you dent the hell out of them. Julian dented one with a basketball and put a pretty decent size bulge in it, and I found out if you just sprayed the back of the canvas with water, it would shrink and tighten back up. No chips. Oil paintings are tough and so that was fine. But we had to negotiate that. That was a balance between order and chaos, right? Because the paintings are on the walls, and they’re all placed very carefully because we looked at a lot. We put every painting in the place we thought it was best, and we went through every room like that multiple times.

You get your house in order, but you allow for that interleaving of chaos because there have to be dogs and cats and children and guests, and they have to be able to disrupt things while they’re alive, just like you do. So it can’t be too sterile and perfect because that’s a tyranny. And so you set that up — that order and the balance between order and chaos — and then you elevate that to beauty. That’s the next stage. You develop your artistic tastes doing that. That’s been very useful for both of us because Tammy’s become a better artist, and so have I because I’ve been able to see the world through the eyes of artists. We have a much more kinesthetic sense, which has helped me in clothing selection, for example. I have a much deeper and well-developed sense of geometric arrangement that’s pleasing synthetically because of studying suprematists and the constructivist artists. Plus, the house is real fun because it’s full of all these crazy paintings, and it’s a place that invites creativity. That was good for the kids when they were growing up because they had these great works of art on the wall, and they just took that as a matter of course. Our original house, before the last renovation, had 38 different paint colors in it, which was really lovely. The house is, in some sense, a work of art, but it’s also a habitable work of art. That’s really fun, and that’s all been a consequence of intense negotiation.

I’ve lived in many houses and I’ve renovated three almost from scratch — with other people’s help, obviously — but I’ve done a lot of the renovation work myself and so has Tammy, and a lot of the design work, and so we know the house. Any place in your house that you haven’t attended to in detail — and that might mean cleaned off with a cloth or brushed or sorted or organized or arrayed, your bookshelves, your drawers — is not part of the habitable order that is good. It’s part of chaos still, and you react to it as if it’s unfamiliar and foreign. That makes you uncomfortable and makes you feel not at home. The advantage you gain by pouring your attention into every nook and cranny in your house is that the house becomes familiar. The house turns into a home and that’s all a consequence of dedicated attention. And if you jointly dedicate your attention to that, then it’s the house that you both inhabit. If you do that properly, you produce a better house as a consequence of your dialogue than either of you would have produced in isolation even if you would have got exactly what you wanted. That’s a really good deal, and that’s a good mantra for negotiations.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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