Nothing? Something?

I’ve been in a reading slump ever since I finished Braiding Sweetgrass a while back. Yesterday I started flipping through How to Do Nothing again and landed on a bit where Odell is talking about some art… pieces? performances? that are really, as far as I can tell, about the difference between a thing being a thing – and particularly an art thing – vs being nothing at all. “Applause Encouraged” was one in which people sat in a roped-off viewing area, watched the sun set, and clapped when it finished. That reminded me of a bit in The Art of Noticing where the author and his wife happened across some unopened crates in a museum room and had an amiable argument about whether this was art-in-waiting, or were the crates themselves the art?

I am not qualified in the slightest to have a discussion about What is Art, but whether or not we consider something art, when we look at things as if they might be art, we are looking at them as being different from nothing at all. A blank wall is nothing. A blank wall with an empty frame hung on it might or might not be art, but in order to have that argument at all, we move the wall, or at least the part of it in the frame, from the “nothing” to the “something” category.

A big part of Odell’s book is about making this contextual mind-shift, taking into our awareness the sounds that fill what we ordinarily call silence, the energy that fills the space we call empty. What happens when we look at everything as if it was something?

(And then of course because I was well-trained in college to be suspicious of all binary models, is there a liminal edge between something-ness and nothing-ness, and what does that consist of? Perhaps for another day. Also there was an old Bloom Country strip where the news reports that, “Today, nothing happened.” Hmmm.)

1 thought on “Nothing? Something?”

  1. There’s a sequence in Scott McCloud’s _Zot!_ where Jenny is complaining that she couldn’t find inspiration for art on an outdoor painting excursion and Uncle Max recommends tossing an empty picture frame ion to the ground and seeing what Mother Nature was trying to tell her.


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