I believe in blank canvasses. Not the kind that are only white and empty until they’re painted, but the kind that stay blank forever as per the intention of the artist. The kind that won’t just one day be a work of art when their apparent simplicity is mottled with various colors and shapes, but the kind that hang on gallery walls, totally unchanged since the day they were manufactured: artwork in and of themselves.
The kind that make some people really, really angry.
Lots of museums have a handful on display, and you can almost always find at least one hanging on the wall of any given modern art museum. If you find it and stick around long enough, you will also almost always spot the people that hate them. These people generally come to museums to see art that they think is beautiful, moving, expressive; art that they think had much thought behind and effort put into it; art they think is impressive and important. And that something like a blank canvas is a stupid, worthless, big gimmick that some tacky, unrefined idiot thought would be impressive and avant-garde to submit to a gallery or museum as a piece of work.
These people, generally, don’t like to ask questions.
Since they got to the museum a few hours ago, they’ve been oohing and ahhing over the Rennaissance murals and Raphaelite sculptures, marveling in their beauty and flabbergasted by the sheer skill of the artists that crafted them. They walk happily through the door of the Modern room but their complacence dissipates as they look warily upon the Pollocks and Rothkos. No longer are they interested in what they are seeing, and their pace quickens. As they close in on the exit door they’re very nearly jogging in an effort to find the nearest charmingly rendered seascape or fruit bowl. But just before they escape they see it, at the end of the hallway: a large, white, glaringly empty canvas. They cannot help but stop and stare. After a few moments they angrily shake their head, disgusted, wondering why anyone would ever consider such a pointless disgrace a piece of art. They think, how awful! They wonder, why?!
The problem is they hardly ever try to answer their own question. The purpose of most modern art – especially the blank canvas – is, among other things, usually to make people think. It can also evoke emotions or convey an important message, but it’s usually focused on getting people to ask questions. Questions like: What is the point of art? What do I consider to be art? Who has the right to say what is art and what is not? What kind of art do I like best, do I think is most important? What other kinds of things are important to me?
I think it’s important that art moves people, whether emotionally or intellectually. I’m often and easily emotionally moved by beautiful, traditional, classic works of art. All the same, I’m just as grateful for and appreciative of art that is mentally stimulating, because anything that gets you to think outside your comfort zone or question what you already know is definitely worth looking at and experiencing. This, I believe.
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