My brother had a new canvas. He propped it against the sofa and studied it for a while. He got up, got a cup of coffee, and sat down and studied the canvas some more. He got up, paced around a while, got another cup of coffee, and studied some more. This went on for a couple of hours and made someone who shall remain nameless absolutely nuts. “It’s just a white canvas!” She thought all this contemplation was wasting time. I thought the situation was hysterical, but neither seemed to appreciate my belly laughs about it.
I could see it from both perspectives. My brother was painting many pictures in his head, so the canvas wasn’t blank to him. The other person thought all those mental paintings were all well and good, but if none of them actually got painted, they didn’t really exist. Another woman recently commented to me about how artists live in their own realities. I knew this wasn’t a compliment, but I laughed and said that I didn’t mind as long as our personal realities could peacefully coexist.
I used to work with Ed who doodled war planes and hand grenades. I doodled a flower, cut it out, and set it on one of his bombs. I got called a “tree-hugger”. Okay. I’ve hugged my share of trees. Besides, he didn’t say it to hurt. I respected his personal world and didn’t mess up his bomb. Ed tacked up my flower by his window. Our personal worlds overlapped a little, and I felt pleased to put a flower on his battle field.
I’ve been thinking about these things because I often feel like artists get criticized for dreaming. The world goes round because practical people do practical things, and they get impatient with dreamers. You can’t stack up dreams on factory skids, but every major advance in society or technology started with what-if fantasies. Suppose a lot of our fantasies are just dreams. Tolkien created a whole world with his fantasies. Didn’t his dreams add something more to our lives? Or if you have to be practical, Tolkien’s world created real jobs for printers and the movie industry. Da Vinci created useful machines along with a whole bunch of impractical contraptions. Newton and Einstein changed the ways the rest of us understand our world.
When I started blogging, I had practical ideas about putting my art online to complement my resume because I was looking for work. After all, dreaming is great as long as you can pay the mortgage. Maybe my goal was a good idea, but I abandoned it almost immediately. I found I needed to dream to create my concrete reality, and blogging provided an outlet, and by extension, maybe my perceptions can mean something to someone else. Other people add to the conversation, and expand the ways we can all think about things. It’s a symbiotic relationship of overlapping worlds that’s necessary in a world of too much practicality.
I’ve stared at blank canvases, and have done things for solely practical reasons. This window is my view from my couch. I’ve spent many hours staring at it, through it, or looking in that general direction without seeing it at all. It’s just a glorified doodle with a ball point pen. I was thinking of an old friend’s way of painting fabric, the birds in the yard, and how the neighbors’ house is too close to mine. Maybe letting my mind float freely through all those associations will inspire new ideas – or not, but I think the idea of letting my mind go where it wants to go exercises an important but maligned aspect of being human and of being an artist.
Besides, I filled up some of those blank canvases. Looking back on 2012, it feels like I filled up a lot of them!