Sunday, August 12, 2012


Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness. ~Samuel Beckett
The other day, I came across a painting with a big white area of canvas without any paint. Oh it was part of the painting alright, I surmised. There was an eclectic pull and push from the corners with bright and enticing blues and stark reds and a bright evanescent yellow thrown in for good artistic measure to mix and merge. The unpainted part stood out in stark relief to the rest. It was there bold as ever, imaginative as could be and inspiring as all possibilities are.

That night I drove by the shop that had the painting hanging in the window and stopped to look at it again. A certain magnetic force tugged at me. I could not place my proverbial finger on it. After pondering at the ware for several minutes, I got out of the car and went in the shop.

“How much is that painting in the window?” I inquired.

“That’s not for sale!” The owner politely answered and then dutifully in his most salesmanship voice proceeded to show others.

“No, no thanks. I was just curious.” I said.

“Interesting…” The owner murmured to himself.

“I’m sorry…” I asked in as polite a manner as possible.

“Oh nothing, you must be the tenth customer to have inquired about the painting.” He said and continued, “I cannot imagine why?”

“As far as I am concerned,” I answered, “it has something to do with that unpainted spot.”

“Really? That is surprising,” he countered, and started laughing.
Curiosity controlled the moment for a while and then he said, “It is a serigraph, you know!” He forced his fingers through his thick grey-white hair. “I have been pondering over it for a while. I am not sure what to do with it just yet?”

“Oh but it is perfect, in its asymmetry!” I said. That very reason is what makes it so attractive. Did you ever see the Broadway play called “Art” it was written by someone by the name of Yasmina Reza. The play was absolutely hilarious but there was strong undertone of complexity of human behavior that was so arresting. All three actors ponder upon the complexity of an expensive piece of art that is an unpainted canvas. This kind of reminds of that play”

“Yes,” he said, “I vaguely remember that.”

Why do we humans get so enchanted with open spaces? Indeed why does a blank sheet of paper offer so much value? It does you know! Because thoughts have as yet not materialized in either of them. Some can conjure up a campground, others a football field, and still others a gigantic skyscraper in the open field and the blank sheet? The possibilities are endless there too.

We are humans, the paragons of all life as Shakespeare put it eloquently. We defy nothingness. We preach filling, building, creating, scaffolding, decorating anything. Our natures are unique and yet it is that blot of nothingness that invites and attracts our viewpoint. Our creative thoughts are to perpetuate a phenomenon of surrounding ourselves with our achievements. It borders on the narcissistic path of life, but that is how progress occurs also: in leaps and bounds followed by step by painfully backward step. Find a blank page and write. Find a blank canvas and paint. Find a open land and build. So that blot of nothingness has a pull and a push. It simultaneously tugs and repels at you, it forces you to think, what could be or must be.

This is a pocket of resistance, like the air turbulence in an aircraft that makes your confidence lurch onto a shaky plank across a gulf where the only view is a burning cauldron below. It happened in real time once and then many others like it have followed. The most memorable and remote was a young man who came in with reams of papers from many a consultant. There was this and that for diagnoses; from a quasi-psychological to a temporal psychophysical, all the way to a potential malignancy. The diagnoses spanned a broad range of esoteric medical ICD codes. I looked at his papers without tempering my mind with the preempts of other’s thoughts and came away with nothing. Absolutely Nothing! Nada! Now what to do? Maybe I wasn’t as smart or knowledgeable or the many myriad of fallacies that become human were more deeply entrenched within. But there really was nothing there. His diagnosis if there was one, for which there was no ICD code was “Healthy.”

He sat across from me with my desk in between. I walked over the gulf that separated us and sat besides him. “You know from all I can see, you are a healthy young man.” I said with a hand on his shoulder.

His eyes betrayed the plethora of emotions from shock, to surprise, to an utter disbelief.

“But everyone, I have seen has come up with something.” All of them say it is potentially benign, but we have to keep an eye on it and nothing to worry about.”

“Well, that is exactly it then. There is no diagnosis to be had. All your tests prove that. There is no sword of Damocles. You are as healthy as I am, assuming I am healthy!” I smiled.

“But what of these diagnoses?” He clamored.

“Take them off your mind.” I replied. Eventually he walked out of the office leaving the invisible cloak of dread on the floor, a beaming smile on his face and an arched back to face any and everything that could come his way.

Now how could this happen?

Maybe one has to find an ICD code to get paid? Maybe one has to show the understanding of the complex knowledge of medicine or maybe, just maybe, one has to fill that “Blot of Nothingness.”

 If you give people nothingness, they can ponder what can be achieved from that nothingness. ~Tadao Ando

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