Blank Canvases…Are they art?

man in empty room
Yves Klein in the Void Room (Raum der Leere), Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, January 1961.

Have you ever walked into a gallery and seen something and just asked yourself, did the artist do anything?? Last year, I visited a contemporary gallery in Richmond, where I distinctly remember part of the statement responding to folks inquiring “what are you working on next?,” to which his reply was, “Is it not enough that I respirate?”  The gallery was full of inaccessible, conceptual installations. I left pondering the role of artists in today’s world.

One of the most famous artworks that can be considered a “blank canvas” is “Invisible Art” by Yves Klein. This conceptual artwork, created in 1958, consisted of an empty gallery space where the viewers were invited to experience the “immaterial” or “invisible” artwork. I have to wonder what sort of impact this had–was it just the usual art-educated audience that viewed the “work” like the emperor’s new clothes? Or were there people that learned something about space and the definitions of creativity?

blank canvases
Jens Haaning, Take the Money and Run, 2021. © Niels Fabæk, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg

In 2021, Danish artist Jens Haaning was commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art to recreate two prior works. Instead, Haaning delivered two blank canvases titled “Take the Money and Run,” representing his dissatisfaction with his working conditions. The museum sued Haaning for repayment, and was ordered by a Copenhagen court to repay over $70,000.  I’m not sure how I feel about this…

(Sidenote: all three of the above artists are male…coincidence? Would a female [generally] submit blank work?…Discuss…)

Artists, I believe, should strive for more than just empty gestures and mere existence. As I navigate my blank canvas, today, I’m reflecting on Yoko Ono’s pieces that, while toying with the notion of blank canvases, offer solid and thought-provoking insights, beyond the surface.

hammer and nail son canvas
Yoko Ono: Painting to Hammer a Nail, 1961

Known for her conceptual and performance art, Yoko Ono has explored the idea of blank canvases in works such as “Painting to Hammer a Nail” (1961). “Painting to Hammer a Nail” invited viewers to interact with the artwork by hammering a nail into a wooden panel, gradually transforming the blank surface into a collective creation through the accumulation of nails. This piece challenges traditional notions of painting by shifting the focus from the artist’s hand to the viewer’s action, blurring the lines between creator and participant, (a decidedly more willful approach than the previous three).

Reflecting on Ono’s work, I feel a bit less intimated, if curious about the various ways I can use my blank canvas as lingers in my corner. I absolutely love interacting with folks about my artwork, answering questions and provoking thought around feminist art. Should this work be interactive? What do you take away from Ono’s work?