There’s a story about carving an elephant out of a block of wood. The craftsman was asked how he did it. He simply said, ‘I took a block of wood and took away everything in it that was not elephant’. That’s the beauty of art. It’s also the beauty of life. It is not always about what you add but what you take away or, put another way, what you leave behind.
Most of the time we want to start from scratch. We want a blank sheet of paper. On this paper we will write or we wish we could write amazing stories or poetry. On a blank canvas we want to draw pictures that will make people gasp in wonderment. But when we are very young our art teachers tell us that one doesn’t really need a blank sheet to create something beautiful.
It’s an old exercise that we have all done at some point in our lives: take a piece of paper, color every inch of it using crayons. Don’t think about doing it in some order, but randomly color.
Now you see not a blank sheet but one with all kinds of colors in a random mix and without any specific form. This is when you start working.
All you need is a sharp object. A coin would do. So could the nib of a pen that has run out of ink. Whatever can cause a scratch, that’s the basic idea. Instead of using color to create a form, we take out color to make outlines.
And it’s not just about a piece of paper, a stack of crayons and a paperclip. Just empty a box of matches on a table. Now pick up some so that what remains forms a picture. Think of things that bother you. Now remove from all those thoughts things like anger, regret, disappointment and envy. What’s left is probably something that’s calm and beautiful.
There are two ways of doing things. You can pour beauty, love, friendship and understanding into someone’s life. You can always take away his or her hurt. You can paint beautiful flowers on a wall. You can also pick up a crumpled piece of paper that someone tossed on to a pavement. Either way you leave things better than you found them.
Here’s something that the grandparents did to the wall of a room. Their first grandchild’s bed had been against this wall. She had doodled all over that wall. When the little girl’s parents built a house of their own and moved out, the grandparents decided to repaint that room. But first, they pasted a large rectangular piece of paper in the middle of the wall, about a food above the level of the bed. Then the wall was painted. White.
Then they removed that piece of paper. What was left was a beautiful painting that would always remind them of the first color-strokes of their first granddaughter.
There are many ways to un-clutter the world around us. There are many ways to un-clutter our lives. Sometimes when we remove, we are in fact adding something that makes things better and more beautiful It’s all about what we remove and how.