"It's so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas." Paul Cezanne
Looking into the blank canvas of my day, I emerge riddled with the anxiety of uncertainty and restless with unknowing. Instead of basking in the delight of each day's mysteries, I all too often wrestle with them in an attempt to know. It seems the blank page often comes before the blank canvas; the page might be an outline or sketch but the work that begins on the canvas is, in essence, one of our many final creations.
Creating anything from scratch begins with uncertainty; we set off on an exploration, an innovation, and something that truly is undiscovered territory. We begin with the day laid bare before us, our blank canvas is also our space of infinite possibilities. Yet, despite the appeal of certainty's veneer, are any of our creations ever fully complete or entirely lasting?
I've come to know the discomfort of uncertainty for as long as I can remember. At the age of 8, I began having reoccurring dreams where I would find myself dead and floating in nothingness: alone, lost, and stagnant in limitless space and eternal time. Between these reoccurring dreams my mind began questioning nearly everything: spirituality, the eternal, making meaning of life, understanding death, the whys of life, and so on.
Now, 23 years later, I stand before the same blank canvases as I prepare to paint my days and find myself with similar restlessness asking questions of each moment. Is what I'm doing, saying, creating or being a means to an end or coming from an ache that needs to be spoken to, addressed, expressed, or otherwise? In other words, am I stepping out of my own way and truly giving who I am to the day's blank canvas?
"Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark." Agnes De Mills
When it comes to my life and work I often paint too much on the canvas. I over-define, re-do, and overdo until things arrive back where they began (and often belong) - a pile of unknowns. Just when I think I have a final piece or creation, the blank canvas reappears at every turn; the paint is lifted and I'm left precisely where I began. In these moments, my tightened fists holding what I once thought was known are peeled open to fully encounter the work, the moment, the art.
To be present with the blank canvas and remind myself that it is okay to begin again, or even rest with the emptiness, is also a process. The moments of being at peace and wonder as I look at the blank canvas do not exist for me without moving through and being present with that still unsure part of me: the anxiety, uncertainty, the grasping, the pains, the sadnesses, and ultimately moving through the unknown to a place of acceptance.
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves... And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." Rainer Maria Rilke
Alas, each day again begins by gazing into the blank canvas of life coupled with my restlessness -how and what should I paint today? In remembering my 8 year old self, I look anew upon the mysteries with reverence. I remember I can give the questions the love and respect they deserve. Now, when the anxieties and agonies of my unknowing climb up to meet my busy brain, I can be present to myself and say as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, "I am here for you dear one".
So, in remaining here for myself and everyone else with a restless spirt striving towards wonder, I say along with Thich Nhat Hanh: "I am here for you dear one".
"Keep contact with the canvas." Dirk Sturtewagen