Filling The Blank Canvas Of Life

Katie Young
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Wednesday - July 05, 2006

While visiting a girlfriend last year in San Francisco, we decided to get a little culture by touring the Museum of Modern Art.

Scanning the museum’s exhibits, there were, of course, some pieces of art that stood out more than others. But the one piece that left me reflecting the rest of the afternoon was a piece by the artist Robert Ryman.

At first glance, it looked as if someone had made a mistake. The canvas hanging on the wall was completely blank.

“Look at this one!” I told my two friends who were there with me. “What on earth is this? It’s totally white! Someone gets paid to do this?”

I was more irritated than enthralled at first, thinking if it was that easy to be an artist, well, then maybe I should think about a career change.

Ryman has made a career of white. He calls his art “realism,” saying that “We have been trained to see paintings as ‘pictures’ with storytelling connotations, abstract or literal, in a space usually limited and enclosed by a frame which isolates the image. It has been shown that there are possibilities other than this manner of ‘seeing’ painting. An image is said to be ‘real’ if it is not an optical reproduction, if it does not symbolize or describe so as to call up a mental picture. This ‘real’ or ‘absolute’ image is only confined by our limited perception.”

Ryman often paints on a square frame but, interestingly enough, he doesn’t start in white. Often he covers other colors and ends up with white.

The universal white color signifies blankness but also endless possibilities to Ryman, whose work shows no images - no illusions or allusions.

So as I sat there wondering why I had paid good money to look at a blank canvas, I began to think about the endless possibilities there could be to this rather plain frame.

Art always carries individual meaning for each person, but my friends and I had a hard time wrapping our minds around the purpose of this blank canvas. Even the intellectual setting of the Museum of Modern Art offered no inspiration in that regard.

But once I returned home I formulated a different take on the all-white canvas. I began to think about how this blank piece of art is an analogy for our own lives.

In many parts of the world, the color white is a color of birth, life and regeneration. It is also known as a color of purity.

For the average person, more than being pure, I feel there is something to be appreciated about being blank.

In this instance, blank is not to be confused with being unintelligent. Instead, I prefer to look at blank as being a clean, fresh surface to work with.

Often our own life’s canvas is cluttered with images and colors of all kinds - these are the experiences of our lives. When we enter into a new relationship, there is not much clean, white area in which to work. We bring with us the baggage from our past: our heartbreaks, our memories of love, our insecurities and our attachments.

Getting past our baggage can be a challenge but also an opportunity. Anything that offers a way to start fresh is a chance to let go of what has been weighing us down and keeping us from growing.

Sometimes we hang on to the familiar even if it’s counterproductive: reacting out of habit even if it’s damaging, sabotaging new relationships instead of learning from past mistakes or just being afraid of any change.

The less baggage you have to deal with, the more white canvas you have to fill with new and positive images.

The blank canvas does, in fact, offer endless possibilities.

It’s all in how you paint your picture.

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