The Sanctity of the Blank Page

When I was a Catholic child, there was a rack of religious pamphlets in the vestibule of our parish church. One day, while my parents were in conversation, I looked through the display and grabbed one small paperback with vivid colors splashed across the cover. I opened it an started reading. Each page was like the cover, bright fields of varying colors bleeding into one another with just a line or two on each page.

Page one: In the beginning..., page two: was the Word,...  page three: and the Word...,  page four: was with God, ... Page five: and the Word was..., and I turned the page to a spread of two pristine, empty pages. Except for one word tucked into the lower left,


It blew my little mind and I can still feel the reverberation of my five-year-old consciousness now. That experience forever informed my understanding of that word and concept of god. 

Even though I wasn't thinking then about the blank page, per se, I certainly have since. 

There is a sacred quality to the blank page whether it's an actual piece of paper, a canvas, project, performance, or the day ahead. However you may think about the word god, the divine, source, creative spirit or some other construct around that concept, the best results of taking action on any creative endeavor is often a matter of getting out of our own way.

All creative processes are rife with insecurities, mistakes, fear of judgement, confusions as to how to start, confusion as to where we are mid-way and how to proceed, how to complete. Almost without exception, I get lost somewhere in the middle of every project and I have learned to either stop and walk away briefly or find some thread of faith to push through and continue. I think that every creative act requires a certain amount of faith to begin and certainly to follow through to some conclusion.

In On the Question of Form, Kandinsky writes about the creative process in terms of the white, fertilizing ray and the black, death-bringing hand. Essentially, he's describing the opening up of our experience to the great unknown and our all too human tendency to cut that connection off with ego fears and constricting habits of thought.

It's a delicate balance. We have to learn technique, presentation, formal constructs, but then, eventually, to let go of those things and take the plunge to make that first mark or shepherd that first mark along. It's not so much a balance really, it's more like a dance. We have to give into the unknown and not worry too much about making a misstep, trusting  that the momentum will probably carry us along.

Trusting takes practice. It's sort of okay when you're alone writing or drawing or painting. Less so when you're working with a rare  piece of wood or stone. As long as you don't quit in surrender to failure.

When a novice musician steps up to perform in public and makes a mistake, the worst thing to do is to stop and start again. Everyone makes errors in performance. Once upon a time in my 20s, I was performing a long guitar solo in the midst of a song and completely lost my way. To this day, I have no idea how I found my way out of that solo and back into the song to the end. I did not know what I was doing but I did not stop. (I did, however, break out in a cold sweat.) What I do remember is that the best guitarist in the audience came backstage to tell me what an awesome solo I'd played. I still laugh about that. 

Trust and faith in the creative force, keeping ourselves open and side-stepping fears and other ego concerns are de rigueur for the artist. So is follow through and knowing when to pause for breath and reflection. It's also, of course, a good practice for living because what is living if not a creative act? But, let me pull this back to the drawing board.

Drawing and painting, especially watercolor, are performances, too. Phil Geiger at UVA taught me that and I've been grateful to him ever since. 

Give in to the sacred dance. Like the remains of a saint, the result on paper is a relic of experience.

As for mistakes, OMG, I have made way more than my fair share. But when it comes to drawing and watercolor, in the end I have to say...

Oh well, it's just a piece of paper.

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