As an artist, filling in a blank canvas can be difficult. The ability of the artist to cover the whiteness of the canvas is predetermined by its proportions. Too small, and it will be hard to fit ideas onto it without sacrificing detail. Too large, and some inadequacies, perhaps the artist’s inability to paint cloth folds, will be brought into light. It must be just the right size for the subject being drawn. Either way, a canvas, once bought, must be filled—for economic reasons, if nothing else.
I remember it clearly: a standard rectangular 30″ x 40″ canvas. A vast desert of whiteness that dominated my field of vision. It was gigantic. Of course, it is difficult to comprehend the largeness this monstrosity without some reliable unit of measurement. It was the size of a medium-ish window. Or twenty eight Kleenex tissue boxes stacked in a 5×8 fashion (that’s an estimation, and a pretty bad one, I think). The point is that it was very big, bigger than any canvas I had ever seen. And I had to fill in that empty space. Before attempting an oil painting, it is necessary to prep the canvas by covering it with one or two layers of paint. This is to facilitate the movement of the brush, so that it will be able to apply the oil paint smoothly without having to scratch over the canvas.
Back and forth, back and forth. It is remarkable how many brush strokes are needed to cover a mere corner of a 30″ x 40″ canvas. I start from the left corner and make the decision to fill it horizontally rather than going diagonally. A groundbreaking choice, sure to astound art critics all around the world. The act of moving the paint back and forth combined with the dry scratch of canvas against brush hairs creates a weird kind of drum beat. It is a monotonous, repetitive activity that must go on for at least an hour, if not more. It is easy to fall into a sort of spell—that lull in time where the eyes register what is occurring but the brain refuses to acknowledge it. You see every object but they are devoid of meaning. Nothing sparks an interest. Your mind wanders endlessly, casually sampling one thought after another, but never truly selecting one. It is blank. A canvas waiting to be filled.
Thinking about this experience, I now realize why nearly three-fourths of the students in my art class listened to music while painting. I used to believe that it was some tool to keep the listener filled with creative motivation or to stave off boredom. But perhaps boredom—the product of a constancy, whether it be an act or a sound, in the background—was the goal. Perhaps boredom, rather than being the bane of the creative mind, is the medium that brings forth the creativity that is so sought after by artists. After all, the root of everyday boredom is the absence of stimulating thoughts/ideas. Perhaps boredom is what decides whether an idea is worthy to be acknowledged.