24: Canvas

A closely woven, heavy cloth of cotton, hemp, or linen, used for tents, sails, etc.

I had the most extraordinary opportunity at Treetops Montessori on Tuesday evening. It was their annual AGM and I was lucky enough to have a tour around the new buildings that have only just been opened for the upper school.

Walking around this incredible facility, breathing in the freshly painted and carpeted smells, I was struck with the thought that these very places are blank canvases. Some of the rooms are not yet fitted out, some partially so… but the potential is incredible. Even the small pieces of student’s art placed around the art room were truly inspiring. The students that are lucky enough to experience this new facility could probably be likened to canvases too (but more fleshy and brainy, less flat and square). What are they going to come out of this experience of Treetops looking like? One thing is for sure… they will each be a work of art.

Now to dissect canvases a bit more.

Origin of the word “canvas” reaches back as far as 1260 from the Anglo-French language, “cannapaceus” meaning made of hemp. (1)

blank canvas

The question that pops to mind is: Why do artists use canvases? Of all the materials available, we still tend to gravitate towards these taut pieces of fabric stretched over wooden frames. Is it the texture that lures us? The portability? Or is it just the sheer tactile nature of having an object of art?

According to the Font-of-All-Knowledge (Wikipedia): “Canvas has become the most common support medium for oil painting, replacing wooden panels. One of the earliest surviving oils on canvas is a French Madonna with angels from around 1410″ (2)

But why did the artists of old replace wood panels? Surely a wood panel would be more durable and sturdy than a canvas?

It seems that the reason was due to “a sudden success of the merchant industry”. Canvas became affordable to the public, and was still a durable enough medium to withstand the tests of time. (3). Consider also the fact that canvas is much lighter, portable, and not restrictive when it comes to size. So it seems to me that we can thank the early maritime industry for what art has become today. Who would have thought we have more to thank them for than peppercorns?

I am excited about the journeys we will see in this remarkable exhibition. No doubt some of the artists who will explore completely new ideas, colours and subject matter. What will be extraordinary is the artists each bringing so many dimensions to this project (subject matter, mediums, materials) with the one thing in common: The Canvas.

I am especially interested in the collaboration we will see with among the contributing groups of artists. Collaboration…. now there’s a good title for the next blog.

  1. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 12 Mar. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/canvas>.
  2. Wikipedia
  3. http://www.anythingpaintedoncanvas.com/article/canvas_painting


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