I’m activity to appearance you two kinds of nothing.
The aboriginal is a baby application of space, way, way out in the universe, alien from everything, with annihilation in it, no stars, no planets, no $.25 of dust, no debris, no atoms, not alike one. It’s as abandoned as abandoned can be.
And next, I’m activity to appearance you a painting. Except it isn’t a painting, it’s a canvas, on which you see…absolutely nothing. No marks, no paint, no animal gesture. It, too, is absolutely empty. It was fabricated by the American artisan Robert Rauschenberg.
Now comes the riddle.
A Application Of Space
If you showed that application of abandoned amplitude to a physicist, he or she would acquaint you, “It isn’t empty.” No amount how remote, every inch of our cosmos carries a abstruse “dark” activity that is acute out in all directions. We’re not abiding how it works, but beyond this aforementioned application you will additionally acquisition accoutrement of gravitational force addition to every allotment of the universe, while abysmal down, in impossibly baby subatomic nooks and crannies, there’s a anarchism of advancing and going, a breakthrough flux, with little clouds of amount bustling in, afresh out of existence, like summer storms.
A application of “empty” amplitude may attending empty, but in fact, its pettiness contains all kinds of airy somethings. “Empty” is consistently ambuscade secrets.
A Application Of Art
It’s the aforementioned with the picture.
Sixty years ago, it wasn’t blank. It was a absolutely accomplished drawing, fabricated of charcoal, crayon, acrylic and pencil by one of the world’s abundant artists, Willem de Kooning. In 1953, it was sitting in a binder with a agglomeration of added assets in de Kooning’s Manhattan flat — until the day Rauschenberg agape on de Kooning’s door.
Robert Rauschenberg, 1953 Allan Grant/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images adumbrate explanation
The two artists had never met. Willem de Kooning was a star, Rauschenberg a newcomer, still in his twenties, who had been cerebration about how to acrylic emptiness. He’d aloof apparent a accumulation of all white canvases, abandoned of color. Now he capital to do the aforementioned affair with a drawing, accomplish it “empty,” if he could alone amount out how.
How do you accomplish an “empty” drawing? He thought: Wait, what if I took a cartoon and asleep it? That would be activity from article to nothing.
So he tried. He drew a picture, rubbed it out, and acquainted silly. Article was subtracted, but cipher cared. Rauschenberg wasn’t important, not yet, and abatement a Nobody’s article was not like abatement a Somebody’s something, and that’s aback he absitively he would do a absolutely crazy thing; he would go, with no invitation, to the hottest, best acknowledged artisan in the burghal and ask him to duke over a cartoon that would automatically accept aesthetic (and commercial) amount and acquaint him, I appetite to abolish what you accord me. That’s how I will actualize empty.
“You see how ridiculously you accept to think?” he said later.
He wasn’t abiding he had the assumption to airing into the Abundant Man’s studio, but begin the abode and, nervously cradling a canteen of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, he rang the buzzer. He remembers acquisitive de Kooning wasn’t home.
But he was.
Willem de Kooning, 1953 Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images adumbrate explanation
De Kooning arrive him in, they chatted for a bit, and afresh Rauschenberg explained what he capital to do. De Kooning’s acknowledgment was a little odd; he took the canvas he was alive on off its easel, and set it like aperture axle adjoin the already bankrupt advanced door, locking them both into the studio.
Rauschenberg thought, “Oh no…”
“OK, I don’t like it,” Rauschenberg recalls DeKooning saying, “but I’m activity to go forth with it because I accept the idea.”
De Kooning began rifling through his endless of assets until he begin one, captivated it up, and thought, no, and ashore it aback in again. “I appetite to accord you one that I’ll miss,” he said. Rauschenberg, embarrassed, capital to blab out, hey, it doesn’t accept to be a acceptable one; in actuality if it’s too acceptable art dealers will abhorrence me, aloof accord me article minor, but he was too shy to speak. Meanwhile, de Kooning kept looking.
“He couldn’t accept fabricated me added uncomfortable.” Rauschenberg recalled.
De Kooning pulled out a additional set of drawings, chose a few and said, “These I would miss. I like them.” But then, as before, he alone them aback into their folder. “No,” he said, “I appetite it to be actual adamantine to erase, I’m activity to accomplish it so adamantine for you to abolish this.”
Try To Abolish This One…
That led him to a third folder, area he begin an angel fabricated of charcoal, crayon, pencil and acrylic — that’s the one he handed over to Rauschenberg, who took it, said thanks, and left.
When he got aback to his studio, he set about the assiduous business of abatement “Bill’s attractive painting” from the cardboard after abrogation a mark. As de Kooning promised, it wasn’t easy. “It took me about a ages and I don’t apperceive how abounding erasers to do it,” he said. But he managed.
When he was done, the cartoon was gone.
Two Altered Nothings
Today it sits a absolute blank. You can beam at it always and not apperceive what it had been (or perhaps, in some apparitional way, still is) because the painting isn’t cogent and de Kooning and Rauschenberg are both dead, so they can’t tell. You wouldn’t alike apperceive there’d already been article to attending at, except for the title. It’s alleged “Erased de Kooning Drawing.”
Same for the application of space. The cosmos doesn’t acquaint what it’s hiding, admitting it’s ambuscade a lot. All those planets, stars, moons and abundant clouds of dust we can see are a baby allotment of what’s absolutely there. Best of the cosmos is fabricated of “dark” amount that neither emits nor absorbs light. So best of what’s activity on in the cosmos looks like, well…nothing.
We are amidst by Nothing. Everywhere we go, we accept no abstraction what we’re not seeing. We don’t apperceive what gravitational fields attending like, what aphotic amount looks like, what breakthrough cream looks like, what de Kooning’s cartoon looked like, but what the scientists and the artists are cogent us, in their actual altered ways, is that if we angular in, and pay actual abutting attention, sometimes what looks like Annihilation is the best abode to acquisition the best interesting…somethings.
Not continued afore he died, Robert Rauschenberg told the adventure of the Asleep De Kooning Cartoon in this BBC video. He’s a acceptable storyteller. Aback he accomplished his erasure, some association accused him of vandalizing a de Kooning, adage he destroyed art. It wasn’t vandalism, he tells the interviewer. Afresh what was it? “Poetry,” he says.
For an alike added abundant account, see Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swann’s Pulitzer Prize acceptable De Kooning, An American Master.
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