Art is blank

I’m sitting in my office, rubbing my eyes with paint-stained hands, wondering how to define art.

“Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art,” said Andy Warhol. I disagree. People are starving, the world is dying and I’m daring to paint.

“Art is the perpetual motion of illusion.” Bob Dylan didn’t see it like I do. I find release in both painting and words. When I paint, something deep inside me flings wide open and breathes. When I write, something deep inside uncoils and finds its legs, learns to walk, even to run.

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“Art is not the application of a canon of beauty, but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon.” Here, I find myself agreeing with Pablo Picasso. Art doesn’t stem from beauty. The very beauty of art is it cannot stem from anything definitive. To define it would be to take away its meaning, like taking a photograph of God. All of the mystery gone and the reverence of worship dissipating into blatant criticism.

Edward Munch credited his ability to produce art to his anxiety, his fears. “For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art. Without anxiety and illness I should have been like a ship without a rudder.”

Clearly, Munch’s need to create didn’t stem from something inspiring or lovely. Rather, it was the result of a tortured mind – a mind begging for release, for the freedom to be without rules or regulations, without judge or jury.

Crazzy Dave, also known as Ottawa’s “Homeless Poet,” staunchly opposes being called a panhandler. He sells his poems for whatever people feel they’re worth. I have one of his poems, scrawled in red marker on cardboard:

Inner Peace … It is something we all search for, but it is hard to find; the stresses of day 2 day life make it such, but take a moment each evening, just to unwind, forget the troubles of the day, ease your mind, think good thoughts, through your body let them flow, look to what’s in your heart and soul, for they shall show you the path to your … Inner Peace.

For Dave, art is words scribbled in red marker on cardboard. It’s also a way to earn money so he can eat.

Can art save your soul? Can this picture feed your stomach? If not, what’s the point?

Here is a definition I can live with: art is a blank space waiting to be filled.

Emily Wierenga is a writer and painter in Blyth, Ontario.

Issue 9

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 9, Spring 2008, Art in an Age of Brutality.

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Issue 9, Spring 2008

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