There's a scene in the movie Pollock when the artist receives a commission to do a large painting for art dealer Peggy Guggenheim. After stretching the almost twenty foot canvas, Pollock leans it against the wall and steps back to take it all in.
The great expanse of blank white canvas fills the screen completely. He continues staring intently at it, yet, after several days, has done nothing. The greatest action painter of them all can not even make the first mark. It's one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.
What is it about a blank canvas that turns the most resolute master into a bumbling procrastinator. Faced with the daunting task of simply beginning, artists instead clean their studios, or sharpen pencils. Anything except what they're supposed to be doing. Even the mastery of materials and a clear personal vision become useless before such a mental debilitation.
The problem lies in the space between what is known and what is waiting to be born. Confronted by every art piece that has gone before, the artist begins to hear voices; the familiar whine of the inner critic.
"You have absolutely nothing to say, do you?"
The writer James Lord told the story that once while in Paris he went looking for his friend Alberto Giacommeti, the Surrealist sculptor and painter. He found him sitting alone in the rear of a neighborhood bistro. Asked why he wasn't back at his studio working, Giacommeti replied, matter of factly, that he had suddenly realized he was a phony and consequently would never paint again.
Who hasn't experienced this feeling that we will never be up to the task of saying what needs to be said and being able to bring forth form from the void. That is the existential dilemma artists face every time they stand before a blank canvas.