Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The blank page and the crisis of faith

I was staring at a blank page, and the thought occured to me; who says it is really blank? And what is involved in my filling it with content?

It feels like there is much to be learned from this most common and basic of tasks, since it offers such a wonderful example of the power of faith.

After all, first comes the belief that there could be something to fill that blank page. Then comes the act to fill it. Creating is so often re-creating; the idea already exists, just needing the physical effort to transpose it into more material form.

Like storytelling itself, the creative process seems to be structured around a beginning, middle and end. Each has its own challenges, and while each challenge is different, deep down it is always the same challenge; one of faith.

Facing that blank page and beginning the creative process requires a pure act of faith, a creator's belief in the existence of something, all too often without any physical proof to back up that belief. To anyone but that believer, their blank page is merely a hole, a void; nothingness. The creator may easily be taken for either a liar or a fool, for their professed conviction to see unseen art, hear unwritten symphonies, or read unformed books. No hovering thought balloons accompany their heads, establishing the basis of the commitment and confidence expressed by the believer; only the reality of the blank page exists for sure. Confronting that blank page, the creator works to imagine their idea upon it, hopefully in as completed a form as possible, because the clarity of that idea will be solely challenged by the very first steps taken to bring it to light. The clearer the objective, the more able we shall be to keep reaching for it, come what may.

The bitter truth that haunts the start of any creative process is that no single first step seems to be able to accomplish any meaningful advance. No matter what first sentence gets written, it will likely need rewriting before much longer; similarly, no initial brushstroke, or musical note, no initial act undertaken is ever satisfactory in itself. Such beginning stabs at the blank page need to be accompanied by such a torrent of additional steps that right at the very start of the creative process there must be a pragmatic humbling, an admission that it will be a while before any of one's preliminary efforts start to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Many changes are likely ahead of us, therefore the creator must believe that change is part of the creative process.

The middle of the creative process requires its own act of faith, a lingering belief in the initial value of the imagined dream and a renewal of belief in the problem-solving potential of the dreamer who began the process to bring it to light. Persevering through initial false starts, the creation starts to take shape, yet inevitably disappointment takes shape as well; the original idea is revealed as flawed, its weaknesses becoming increasingly apparent, the differences between what we believed we would be making, and what is instead emerging upon that blank page, challenging our belief in ourself. This crisis of faith can be resolved through the creator's ability to adapt, to negotiate a reconcilation between subjective hopes and objective results, illuminated by an awareness of what can be, and what is. Any chasm between these two can be breached with the adoption of a "two steps forward, one step back" attitude towards the creative process; expect to make mistakes, expect to come up short somehow, and judge how to overcome those shortcomings so that in the grand scheme of things there may be continual advance, no matter how many missteps occur along our way out of the maze. Creation needs to be seen as re-creation, a continuing reshaping of ideas, treating our believed objective as being in a constant state of becoming... that is, a constant state of becoming more of itself.

The end of the creative process requires yet another triumph of faith: faith in letting go. To start, and to keep going, required such effort in grabbing hold and then tightening the grip on our commitment to our creative process, that letting go may prove the hardest act of all. How to let go and let the filled page stand on its own, without our accompaniment as a kind of greek chorus to rationalize or justify or even clarify the less-than-ideal content of that page? How to let go, so long as the content on our page is not "perfect"? What are to be the consequences for revealing a less than 100% representation of our initial idea? Is any point less than perfection, to be taken as total failure? Surely every finished result will be a combination of two opposites; in some ways it will be less than we hoped it would be, but in other ways more than we imagined it could be.
It requires an act of faith for a creator to accept their compromised, half-and-half work as "good enough", and move on, by moving away from it... letting it stand or fall on its own. The passion necessary to keep fueling that initial conviction, and each subsequent act of faith, may defeat the whole process if it doesn't allow for any conclusion, and final judgment. How can there be progress without judgment?

Interestingly, even when abandoned, the work is likely to still "grow"; for as the creator changes, their perception of their creation will change as well. For example, an adult looking back at an old drawing they made while a child, will see the drawing entirely differently as they look at it through older eyes. The drawing has remained the same, yet the creator's vision has competely changed, adding or subtracting a world of values to that act of creation. Even though the child making the drawing had a specific objective in mind, the result contains so much more than the child ever expected it would showcase; how they view their family, their home, their life... even when completed, the content of the creation can be forever re-created, by a renewal of observation. The child may have been disappointed or frustrated that the drawing they did of their family isn't "right", but years later the adult may look at the smiles on the faces, the holding of hands, the warmth of the home suggested by the inevitable smoke coming out of the inevitable chimney, and judge the drawing as a success; despite the flawed perspective or the out-of-proportion figures in relation to the doorway (with the round doorknob) or the windows (with the "plus-sign" design to suggest glass), the drawing is a nevertheless a triumphant representation of what was really important, the ideas as they were felt by the heart, rather than seen by the eyes.

Such experiences might never be known, if the constant act of faith involved in the act of creation is allowed to be halted. Failure can still be seen as success if measured against a long enough period of judgment. Any disappointments can always be channeled into the next act of creation, toward the "next time"; therefore it's of immense value to grow the belief that there could even be a next time, and that we can get a second chance, a fresh start... a new blank page.


truepeers said...

..., thanks, back to work, back to,,,

epiphanyarts said...

I like your thoughts. Are you a christian? Looking for writers of faith to write features for my site Tell me what you think.