the art of nothing


I was googling the title to see if there were already a hundred things called this and it seems there are not. In the process I found a short film made by an actor posing as one Hans Freeberling, an artist installing a show about nothing. The gallery is empty. People come. They think it’s real, that the artist is real, and so they try not to scratch their wee wannabecultured noggins until, eventually, they make up Their Own Point for the point of the nothingness. Because there must be one, right??

As a satire, it’s gorgeous. Says so much about us. Most of which is questionable, but there’s this too: that faced with a blank canvas, real or metaphoric, we can choose to impose our own thoughts. This is a kind of art form in itself. Getting People To Think From Ground Zero, we might call it.

The lack of ‘something’ might also be compared to a one word poem. Or a single toilet cemented to a wall. I mean, we can have real discussions about these things. (I recently had a strangely satisfying time discussing the ‘poem’ balloon. One word. Discussion went along the lines of who says it has to have only two L’s and where’s the law about the emphasis remaining on the second syllable… and so on.)

There’s always the chance these chats will lead to… oh, something interesting or important even. Possibilities are always endless where conversation is concerned and, really, anything at all can be a prompt.

But because something serves as a prompt, or because it causes us to think in possibly new ways… is it art? And who gets to say?

And what isn’t  art?

And who gets to say?

I’m not looking for a definition. Or even an answer. Is there even an answer? Tons of opinions. And all manner of conversation and argument and (most sadly of all) very little light-heartedness about things, including toilets, so I’ve decided to stop asking. In fact this whole ramble is a digression.


What I meant to write about is nothing, the art of it.

Which leads me directly to my dad, a chap who would not have called himself an artist though he played with paint, on both canvas and walls. He built our first house then spent decades renovating the second. The garden too. Rockeries and rose beds. Our hedge was almost a topiary. If he wanted a fence, he’d go down to the beach, find some driftwood and make one. Then he’d make a driftwood coffee table, an end table, a floor lamp. He made bookshelves. A fireplace, a BBQ and a bird bath out of stone and in the rec room he painted a wall to wall, floor to ceiling mural of a favourite spot under a tree on a beach in Barbados. He included my mother’s striped beach bag hanging from a branch. (The people who bought the house after my parents died, said the mural was a selling point.) He built two patios and a car port, refashioned our front door, and the back one too, to look more Spanish, a style he liked. And then he began making the inside look more Spanish too. To his mind anyway.

He did all this after his day job, and on weekends. Mostly in Hawaiian shirts, paint splattered pants and shoes with no laces.

This was his thing, this making.

I used to wonder how he thought up all this stuff. How could a wall that looked perfectly fine to me in its bareness or with a few holiday pennants hammered on, to him scream: paint a beach scene!!! don’t forget the bag.

He did a lot of sitting in-between the making. This was all before busy-ness was invented, when people really were   busy, doing real things without an abundance of appliances and before nannies and dog-walkers. These ancient busy people, it seems, made time to sit, have a coffee, light a pipe, and if you were to join them, say, at the picnic table on the handmade patio, they wouldn’t talk about being busy, they would say something about squirrels or sedimentary rocks or have you noticed how many buds are on the apricot tree this year? You might be wearing pedal pushers and drinking Koolaid when you ask if there’s such as thing as UFOs and they might draw a few times on their pipe, think for a minute, let the smoke out nice and slow as they say could be, who the hell knows…

My dad would be surprised to learn that the most important thing he taught me was not to make sure the vice on my workbench was closed at night or how properly to wash a car, but how to love what you do, to do it as well as you can and, most importantly, to take time for the nothing. In fact, he’d be surprised to know he even did it.

Some of my favourite moments, those nothing ones. Still are. I realize in my own nothings that that’s where we re-fuel, where we find our next mural.

A whole different kind of art.

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23 thoughts on “the art of nothing

  1. One of most enjoyable posts, Carin, especially your memories regarding your dad. Thank you. My only concern regarding “nothing” in itself can be art: where do we go from here? in visual art. Is it the end of the line? We can, of course, try double nothing, but in math, you can add to nothing, substract, multiply or divide – it’s still nothing.

    1. That’s what I loved about the film. That even with absolute nothingness in front of them, when told it’s ‘something’, people will ‘find’ what they believe must be the something. Quite a statement about the art ‘industry’ in general. So, that said, is there even such a thing as nothing? ;)

  2. Love this, Carin. Your dad’s mural reminds me of a painting I used to see at the very first hip, fern-and-art-decorated restaurant I ever went to. It was a few blocks from our apartment over The Bakery Restaurant on Chicago’s Near North Side. My first husband and I used to do our laundry at a nearby laundromat on Saturdays and go for brunch at the restaurant. There was big, bright painting of a middle-aged couple sitting outside on deck chairs, maybe at a swimming pool, drinks on a round metal table, looking relaxed in the sun. The Germans have a word for it: Gemütlichkeit.

    1. Imagine remembering a painting from a Laundromat so many years ago! (and in such detail; and in lovely Chicago!) That’s a beautiful story in itself, Mary Ann. Thank you!

  3. Great post. WOuld love to have seen your Dad’s mural and driftwood fences and furniture, and, and! Thanks for the reminder Carin that it’s important to have those times, every day, of doing nothing in this crazy busy world. Ironically, I think I’ll have to work at it! Go figure …

        1. How perfect. And beautiful. So many times I’ve regretted not taking any snaps. But of course, it doesn’t matter. How did I not know that… It’s not like I’ve stopped seeing it all. If anything, I see it more. I love this song. Thank you, thank you.
          And now I think I’ll just go off and find a tissue…

  4. I love this–the mural especially. But I don’t think I’ll rush out to the library and borrow Being and Nothingness.

  5. Watched it. I find it interesting as a social experiment, and funny indeed if one looks at it that way. The art “industry” (love your term!) people seem to take it seriously though. Even more alarming is a woman’s opinion that this is the future of art, the less time spent on art making means more free time for other things. What other things????

    1. My favourite thing was the ‘artspeak’, earnest declarations of “post post modern”; “sublime vacuity”; “stark truth, reality”. A brilliant social experiment, a piece of art in itself. Such a perfect mirror on pretentious piffle. I can imagine the filmmaker pissed off the piffle-speak set quite royally (once they came to realize the truth).

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