Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drawing A Blank

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.


Anonymous said...

Denis- If your 'existential dilema' results in drawings like the one pictured...then I say...bring it on...article and drawing are wonderful.


Sheree Rensel said...

Oh geesh! Is this ever a timely blog post. I am going through this same thing right now. The weird thing is it has never really happened before. In fact, I can remember a long time ago, I would literally spend my lunch money on a new pristine sheet of Fabriano watercolor paper. I would get it stapled onto my watercolor board and dig into it like there was no tomorrow. Even though the cost was so high to me back then, it didn't matter at all. Who cares if I ruined it? Not me.
All of a sudden a week ago, I got a whole shipment of birch wood panels. I used to work on wood all the time, but gave it up because of shipping cost and weight. I hate the soft surface of canvas, so I decided to go back to wood.
Anyway, I got these birch panels. They are not primed. I have them sitting right here. I have been staring at them for more than a week. I have become hypnotized by the grain of the wood. I see passing glimpses in my mind of the paintings that will be painted on them. However for some bizarre reason, I am afraid to mess up the perfection of those beautiful surfaces.
HA! This has to stop. I just have to get on with it! LOL