You've heard the myth. of course, the one about the artist afraid of the blank canvas... All poppycock! To him it's not an empty space. It holds, if not the first trace of his image, then at least the terms in which to spell it out. It is not total freedom, a blank page on which to write whatever comes (which would be scary), but constraint. Around the canvas edge (where later on, the frame will go) he thinks a fence or hedge to isolate his marks, to keep them safe from all that might contaminate - for this is what he fears, the failure of his inner sight. l'art pour l'art - in other words: KEEP OUT! TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED! Let's say his image is a beggar man, a line of refugees... He feels a pity... this is what he must keep out. Here failure lurks, for this is what he fears - the image, having been adulterated, will be too weak to stand alone, will need to borrow feelings, sentiments, emotions from somewhere alien beyond the frame. The pity that we want will emanate from shapes and colours that belong to what goes on within the working space. Mostly though, we do not act like that: the fence is porous, signs ambiguous, grown over, out of date; we read things into what is there, forget each piece of art is an event, a new piece of reality and not a copy of a bit grown old. So art becomes a starting point, we're not content to stay within the frame. With poetry it's just the same. The truth is words are never good enough, but having nothing else, we must protect their probity. Musicians know the score! They do not add strange meanings to pure sound. Their less is greater than our more.
(I do so hope you've realised that this poem advocates all that it isn't!It was written for the excellent prompt at poetry jam.)
Dave, this is a thoughtful poem I read through a few times. I love the idea that a blank canvas holds the first trace of an artist's image. (I will think of this in regard to poetry as well. A blank page holds the beginning of a 'masterpiece of words.' )Very interesting about the fear of the artist that his image will be too weak to stand alone, and he will need to borrow emotions from somewhere else. (Poets probably fear the same kind of thing...I see that, feel that.) I am not sure about the difference in regard to music. Do they not also have similar fears?
Dave, I hope you will share this with Poetry Jam this week, as it works with the 'art for the sake of art' prompt.
While reading this I thought of how the creation of a human being is also a blank canvas and that the small baby holds the potential for genius and great works. The parents are the canvas edges.
An artist already has some ideas in his head. It's a matter of getting them on the canvas to start. After having gone half way will he decide how he's going to end. That's how we get abstract art. A poet I think will also follow a similar path. And it makes it all the more interesting! Nicely done Dave!
It is indeed a thoughtful poem Dave, which (to this tired mind) required several readings to appreciate its wisdom therein.
A blank canvas, page (to me) does not inspire but
“It holds, if not
the first trace of his image,
then at least
the terms in which to spell it out.”
I like the idea of the protective canvas edge in which we isolate our marks but am confused about leaving ‘pity’ out (as an adulteration) and thus the ‘image’
“will be too weak to stand alone, will need
to borrow feelings, sentiments, emotions
from somewhere alien beyond the frame.”
for if pity is left out would the image not have to “borrow feelings, sentiments…” rather than evoke them?
Perhaps I am too tired to think this out for myself?
Not intending to be critical dear Dave for (as you know) I love your poetry.
Kind regards Anna :o]
While reading this I couldn't help but think of the World War II documentary I saw on television the other day. It was about Hitler's close friend and second in rank of the Nazi party, Albert Speer. He went to great lengths to remove Hitler's paintings and other valuable art in order to hide his involvement in the murders of so many. It worked...however, it was discovered as to how much involvement he really had, but many years after his death.
Very thoughtful poem...nicely done, Dave!
Dave, this is amazing ... every line and thought leading to the last stanza which is truly great.
(as a total novice, maybe I won't cringe in fear every time I look at a blank canvas and wonder what in the world I'm doing)
This a a really thoughtful and thought-provoking piece!
I agree with you entirely that if an artist only ever saw a blank canvas, they would never paint. Most of art and writing is imagination after all, and without constraint too, I think you captured art for arts sake really well Dave, but then, being an artist and a poet, you would, wouldn't you :)
the blank canvas is anticipation to me...and my need to fill it...but not forget to leave some in it as well to give room to breath....do we rule the pen or are we just slaves to the muse as well?
I agree..we have only words...for better or worse... your concluding three lines in their rhyme are superb with a splendid echo of Emily Dickinson's own voice.
The comparison between art and poetry is so beautifully carved out that I had to read the poem a second time.
As for musicians, "They do not add strange meanings to pure sound." Well, sometimes they come up with strange sounds that have no meaning, or rather, have no primary musical meaning. I once watched a documentary about a man who went around Europe (I think the film was Austrian of German, they spoke German in it) collecting sounds and creating music from them. It could be anything, the sound of a bell in a church, or the rustle of leaves in autumn, or drivers tooting their horns at some poor soul who dared to go too slow. The documentary had no narrative to speak of, but then again, the musician was not interested in a particular musical narrative either.
Great poem. Many thanks.
Greetings from London.
Sincere thanks for these thoughts. I will do my best to answer them. The first trace on the blank canvas could be seen as the artist's projection on to it. There is (in my experience anyway!) anxiety that what is put down on the canvas will not match it. The clue to the borrowed emotion is in the line The pity that we want will emanate from shapes and colours that belong to what goes on within the working space. The pity shouldn't come from some pictorial representation of it, but from a sort of abstract equivalent - as in music. I'm not sure if musicians have similar fears or not. I imagine that they do, but they do not (so far as I know) produce marches by trying to ape the sound of marching feet, for example.(There are exceptions (The London Symphony, etc where we hear the war time sirens, for example), but in the main I think that it holds good.
I actually wrote this for the Jam, but was thrown by the intrusion of disconcerting stuff from Google re my email acount, with the result that I initially linked it to the wrong web page. Should be there now, though.
Yes, powerful analogy. I like it. Thanks for.
I guess that's largely true, but not necessarily so that he already has ideas in his head. Klee talked of taking a line for a walk, for example. Interesting response. Thanks Hank.
Thanks for this Anna. I thought the leaving pity out bit might cause some problems. I saw this prompt late and thought Hey Ho, right up my street! but it proved far more difficult than I had anticipated, and now I'm thinking it needed more time. I didn't mean that the pity has no place in the picture (or poem) but simply that its representation must be in aesthetic terms rather than graphic or simply pictorial ones, a crying face, for example - in spite of the tears in Guernica! (These were symbols, if you like, that Picasso had developed over the years and were generally understood and interpreted as such.) The thought was that the emotion must be created within the frame in abstract terms, not a copy of something extraneous.
Thanks very much for the fascinating sidelight to this. It's the sort of thing I may use sometime!
We all cringe at times before the blank page or canvas, but the real question is WHY?
Is it because we have no ideas? - in which case it's too early to be sitting down to write or standing up to paint. Or is it a lack of confidence? A feeling that we're not quite up to putting it down on paper or whatever?
wow! i love this, Dave! it put me in mind of how disappointed i become when readers "don't get" what i'm trying to say... and really, should i even want them to?
thank you for participating at Poetry Jam!
My thanks for this.
Thank you so much for your very kind words.
Yes, extremely good point, the need to leave room to breathe - as is your final point. Way back I did make experiments involving looking (Staring, I guess) at the blank sheet or canvas until an image appeared. I also saw an exhibition of Victor Pasmore's consisting of images he'd seen with his eyes shut. I tried producing paintings by the same method with< ithought, fascinating results - though vastly different from his, as you would expect. I made quite a few posts from them.
Thanks For this. I have this quote in my note book: The poet's eternal paradox: words are not good, but they are all we have, nevertheless. The more we are able to dispense with them, make them redundant, the nearer we get to poetry, and the more we are able to say.
You don't happen to know from whom or where this comes, do you? I've tried Googling it.
A Cuban in London
Yes, I know it's been done a few times: we've had hoovers and door bells and bicycle pumps on the concert rostrum, but in the main musicians seem free of such devices - certainly more free than artists - no doubt the fact that music is an abstract art helps!
Thank you for your thorough answer, Dave. I do understand the fear that what one ends up putting on the canvas will not match what one hopes to, that the painting one actually paints will NOT be what one sees oneself painting. (I had that happen all the time when I tried painting...or when I draw, for that matter. I plan a masterpiece and then...well, you know! Sigh.)
A very thought-provoking poem, Dave! For me, this brought to mind the Micheangelo quote "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." Really enjoyed this, thanks so much for sharing!
Interesting Dave. As a painter I very rarely start with an idea of what I want to create. It kind of grows as I paint. I might start with just thinking what colors I like today and then what they could become. Sometimes I get an idea from a photo I see -- but usually after I have started the kind of amorphous process. With writing too I usually just start without knowing what will appear.
The image of constraints being the womb of creative expression was well done.
But as you admitted, it was doing what it wasn't suppose to do -- it had purpose and not rebellious -- it was not art for art's sake.
[not following - feel free to contact by e-mail or on my post]
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