There it is. The blank canvas. Filled with near infinite possibilities as you can turn that blank canvas into just about anything you want it to be. It could be a portrait. It could be a landscape. Maybe it’s abstract, maybe it’s a watercolor, maybe it’s a post-modern mixed media impressionist caricature. Maybe I know nothing about art.
But I am too familiar with the utterly unrelenting tyranny of the blank canvas. Or rather, in my case, it’s more about the blank page in a web browser or word processor as that blinking vertical cursor mocks and curses at me. Write something. Anything. And make it good. Contrary to popular belief, writer’s block is not the exception or an occasional hurdle to overcome; writer’s block is the default status and the glimmers of inspiration are the rare jewels to be embraced.
The struggle of the writer is very much like the creative struggle of the visual artist. We are also tortured by the blank canvas, because we feel compelled to make something. We could at once be faced with an utter void of ideas and an overwhelming deluge of possibilities. Every stroke we take, whether on a keyboard or with a paintbrush, necessarily narrows down what the end product can become. What it will become.
You may recall I mentioned on Monday that I picked up Zen Pencils: Creative Struggle by New York Times bestselling cartoonist Gavin Aung Than. In it, he offers “illustrated advice from masters of creativity” and the first such “master” is Vincent van Gogh.
In the highlighted quote, van Gogh discusses how a the blank canvas is “staring you in the face like some imbecile,” a stare that says to the painter, “You can’t do a thing.” Understandably, “many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas.”
There it is. The blank canvas. The blinking cursor. Taunting you, because you haven’t yet created anything. And really, the only way that you’ll be able to overcome this tyranny is just to start. You must. The common pathway starts with inspiration, which leads to motivation, which lends itself to action… but inspiration isn’t always there. Instead, sometimes you must start with action.
And the more you do, the more you create (even if it’s bad). And the more you create, the more motivated you will become to create more. And through this constant cycle of creation, you may be so fortunate as to stumble upon some inspiration. And the blank canvas can then lay at your feet as your subject, not as your oppressor.
Break the spell and embrace your newfound freedom.