The Search for Solomon

The Artist and the Void

There is possibly nothing worse for the artist than the blank canvas. I think it was Nietzsche who said that "if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." The problem with an abyss is that it is many times empty, a void. Nature abhors a vacuum, we are creatures of nature, and so naturally we abhor it. The blank canvass, white page, or unformed material is a frightening prospect to anyone with an imagination. This is because the imagination is essentially positive. It only imagines. It cannot unimagine, because by the very nature of the word "unimagine" necessitates undoing that which was imagined. There would be no need to unimagine if nothing had been imagined in the first place. The epithet "unimaginative" is inevitably pejorative. No one wants to not have an imagination, because no human being likes the proposition of having a void mind.

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This is true for most people, but artists are especially sensitive to the issue. When an artist comes to the act of creation, whatever the medium of choice, the prevailing emotions are almost always anxiety and excitement. Excitement stems from the idea, and the prospect of bringing an idea into the real world to which the senses may reach forth and receive. This is always what drives an artist from conception to actualization. Anxiety is more difficult, though. Assuming for the moment that the act of creation is not in a moment of performance, what has a painter or writer to be anxious about? I believe that it is fundamentally a fear of the abyss. Where there is no realization of their particular vision, there is anxiety. Essentially, we fear the void.

For some, this fear drives them away from their task. It paralyzes the creative energies to such an extent that the void wins and Nothing triumphs over Something. How does this happen? The first answer is age. The second is by the overwhelming sense of possibility.

The younger a person is, the easier it is for them to realize their creative energies in the world. This is because they are fierce and free. They see the void, are stirred, and move with decision to brush the canvas. They are not worried about what the world will think, or how outsiders will consider their art. They simply create, and in doing so seek to master their craft as best they can.

Growing old is the contagion that plagues all fearful artists. All artists fear the blank canvas, but youth is less afraid of non-deliberation in creation. Consequently, that is why some art by young people is bad. Nonetheless, the best artists in the world are still young at heart. One cannot think too hard about the blank staring back. This is when the lackluster of age combined with an overwhelming sense of possibilities becomes problematic.

An artist senses possibilities. She becomes clued into a slice of life that can be expressed in a certain way. Maybe the exact way is unknown, maybe it is merely a clue. In it's most primordial stage, it might even be the sense of anxiety itself. The first step is discovering why that anxiety is there, the next is finding what in the subject at hand is bringing it out. This sounds abstract, but it is actually very sensual simply meaning, known through the senses.

Take for example a young girl who does not know that she is an artist, but it is in her blood to be a writer. Perhaps she is about 10 years old and she lives in the mountains. Sunset after sunset goes by, but one day she looks at the setting sun and her breath is taken away. She is captivated by the moment for what seems like ages. Then, the moment passes as she returns home troubled. What was that dazzling display that so stirred her? Why should it bring her to the brink of tears? What is this power the scene has over her? The young girl picks up her pen and writes. She doesn't know all the allusions in literature about sunsets yet, but she writes. The blank page is nothing to her. It is simply a tool in the service of expression.

Now consider a man of middle age who is also creatively inclined. He has dabbled in the arts but has neglected his task with growing age. Because of his age, he has had experience after experience, like the girl, but has failed to find the words, or the right palette, technique, or feels like he must have the precise allusions in mind before he may begin. He has so neglected the void that the void has overcome him. Instead of taking up his pen, he leaves it hanging millimeters above the page while endless possibilities go through his mind. He becomes paralyzed, unable to consider one in particular. In the end, he ends defeated in exhaustion because he has not the endurance of the youthful imagination. He lives his life in constant anxiety because the neglected spirit of the artist never dies, it simply attritions. Eventually, energies once spent in exuberant discovery are now spent in bitterness and quiet rage.

The void is not inherently fearful to artists because of the fact that it is a void. It is rather the fact that anything can possess it's space. It is the fact that it is inevitable that something should be there, and the subsequent question, "Will something be mine?" The younger in heart (and imagination) the artist, the easier the latter question. Will it be mine? Of course it will. Now, what will it be?

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Posted in Home Improvement Post Date 02/01/2016


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