A Blank Canvas

Design by Chela Simon-Trench

There’s a freedom that comes with creating art that most people crave: a lack of rules, a lack of answers, and a lack of limits. While liberating in theory, the ability to sit down—pen to paper, brush to canvas—and simply create whatever your mind conjures up is a terrifying reality. 

A blank canvas isn’t a field of opportunity but rather a set of questions tonavigate. A pack of colorful pens sits to my right, and a bright pink mechanical pencil to my left. Colorful or monochrome? A beautiful tree sits in front of me, but an image of a girl tugs at the back of my brain. What to draw? With all these questions running through my mind, I have no choice but to ponder every possible combination. So instead of being inspired, I sit frozen—paralyzed by the infinite outcomes. But I only gather the courage to begin after a long stretch of staring at the page, frozen in doubt. 

With every movement of my hand, a drawing of a girl begins to appear like pieces of a puzzle slowly coming together. But my pieces aren’t factory-made or clean-cut. The girl’s eyes glare in asymmetric spite; her crooked nose protrudes from the wrong part of her face; her hair hangs limp like dried spaghetti; her expression appears at once disapproving and concerned. Yes, art may be “subjective” and all that—but the image before me is by all means objectively terrible. The eraser comes out. The canvas is no longer white but rather colored a light shade of gray by the remains of my failed attempt. 

I start again. This time, someone peers over my shoulder. Aware of their gaze, I look down at my drawing. Instead of a girl, I see fragments of a face strung together—a failed Picasso. I flip the canvas over, sparing my dignity. After some quick encouragement and empty praise, the person leaves. My gut urges me to tear up the canvas in front of me—stab my pencil through it and create a face out of the holes. The STEM major in me thinks about the fact that nothing can be created or destroyed—even here, I can’t seem to escape the voice of my professor. This girl, half-drawn or fully erased, will always exist in some form now that I have put her on the page. She stares back at me, begging me to continue. 

Her accusatory gaze gives me no choice. I start again. This time, I don’t stop until the image is finished. Still, I fear that there’s something I’m missing. Everywhere I look, there is a line that could be adjusted, another erased. I stare at the girl for a moment longer, thinking about how others could have drawn her better. Then another fear arises: though this piece may be the best, it’ll never be enough to satisfy expectations. Although art is a craft unbridled by rules and regulations, there are always certain expectations. Everyone stares at a piece of art with their own notion of what is “beautiful”—of what is “good.” When I stare at abstract art, I think back to my kindergarten scribbles, but I also know that some find meaning in blank canvases adorned with a single dot. This difference in perception stems from my expectations for what art “should” look like. In reality, that’s all art is: a discipline that promises endless freedom to create but is uniquely shaped in the mind of each artist and viewer. And as a people pleaser, that’s what terrifies me about art.

Leave a Reply