Friday, January 29, 2016

The Empty Canvas

Some people still insist there's a meaning for everything and that you do things for a purpose. For instance, if you ask the average human being why they exercise, they'll say “to get strong” or “be healthy.” The notion that there's no meaning or reason to do anything is not an attitude that's maintained by a broad spectrum of the population. But isn’t the plight of the artist with his or her blank canvas a paradigm of the human condition? No one is telling him or her what to paint or how to paint it and yet they must begin somewhere, make a mark from which the rest of the artistic work will proceed. The act of filling the canvas is not informed by meaning, but is an exercise in meaning making. The canvas could be blank or filled with gibberish like Jack Torrance’s page in Stanley Kubrick's film version of The Shining with the famously perseverative “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Dull he wasn’t. One of Alberto Moravia’s best known novels is The Empty Canvas whose original Italian title La Noia translates as “boredom.” What these titles have in common is the state of absence, of disinformation that however uncomfortable remains an optimal condition for artistic creation. When Antonioni met Rothko he commented "Your paintings are like my films--they're about nothing...with precision.” Renaissance artists, like Michelangelo and da Vinci, dealing with Christian liturgy didn't face this problem since they had a mission. But the truly empty canvas is the predicament of modernism in which meaning is created rather than received. So when you go to the gym and step onto the treadmill, you're not ultimately attending to your health or your strength, you're stepping into the abyss—and the inertial force of the unwilling body, clamoring to return to its resting (couch potato) state is ample testimony to the fact.

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