“Negative space is a compositional tool used in both two- and three-dimensional work. The simplest way to describe it is as: space where other things are not present.”
.. . interesting to consider how as artists, we train ourselves to see negative space – to see what is not there, to see absence and view it as presence. It is the presence of space. Equally interesting, we discover how to create negative space. That is, we create nothing, we create absence, and the creation of that absence is equal in importance to the creation of whatever thing that sits in relation to it, in fact even more important, for the thing is entirely dependent on all of the space that surrounds it. And when there are two or more things, the negative space becomes the shape of the relationship between them, and this is really what it’s all about – relationship. Artists see relationships. We become obsessed with them, and not just the relationship of one thing to another, but the multiplicity of relationships all at once. .. the way light falls on a surface and the shape of the shadows it causes, and the tactile richness, and a color that responds to another color, and on and on. The remarkable thing about relationships is that they’re supremely dynamic, in constant transformation, thereby causing every experience to be fleeting as each configuration of relationships morphs into a new constellation. This is why artists seem to be always chasing after dreams, invisible phantoms, because what we are after does not stand still, cannot be seen or captured, and so we chase it, just behind, it as if it were a streak of light trailing a magical fairly that just flew out of the room only seconds ago. It is also why we have trouble getting excited about things alone, like money. We need it, like everyone else of course, but it fails to hold our interest in and of itself as something to be pursued, because on its own it is static. For money to become alive, it would need to move into new relationships. That it is, spending money is not interesting, it’s been done before, there’s no adventure in it. But doing something like taking money, 365 twenty dollar bills for instance, and gluing them in a fish-scale like fashion onto a large inflatable penguin and driving it on a motorcycle through the jungles of Southern Mexico, now that would be interesting. That might hold the attention of an artist for a day or two. But then the money would cease to be money as we know it.
What if we walked through life with this approach, that of seeing the space around and between things, of noticing and delighting in all the subtle and peculiar relationships, and then imagining new relationships. . . how might our experience be different? How might it expand? You see, an artist knows how to look at something anew by putting aside the expectations and definitions we have established around it. An artist deconstructs and re-imagines a new purpose, a new arrangement, and she does this most often not by seeing extraordinary far-out things, but by seeing what is most overlooked – that which is right in front of us all, but of which we fail to see. What a remarkable capacity! With such capacity, in a world plagued by conflict and all the challenges that humans create for themselves and others, could there be a larger role for the artist to play in creating solutions? Why is it that artists are assigned such a trivial position of being mere expressive types that have nothing to do with serious affairs? I mean, society generally views artists as those eccentric, not fully matured, people that by their whimsical nature give a certain “flare” to an ordinary space or event. This is why when we see advertisements with the word “art” or “artist” involved, the word is printed with that curly-cue font that makes one think of after school activities for children (Can you imagine ads for medical school written in the same style? “YOU can be a DOCTOR too!”). In times of crisis, no one thinks to call an artist. When critical decisions need to be made that will have resounding impact on the lives of many citizens, no one thinks, “we need to call in an artist!” (In South America it was once possible for a poet to become president. Not long ago, the famed Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil served as Minister of Culture for his country. But we don’t even have a Minister of Culture in the States at all!). Truth be told, it’s not simply a matter of hiring artists to come up with new ideas to re-think trouble areas of our society, joining them with teams of scientists, and/or establishing them as part of the executive boards that determine economic development policies and urban design. Rather, we all need to explore the negative space. We need to widen our gaze, to catch that which is invisible though right before us, and to develop a thrill and skill that can only come out of genuine curiosity for uniqueness and delicacy of relationships of every kind. It’s not about oil painting, dance, theater, or any particular artistic discipline. It’s about a way of looking, seeing, and being in the world, having an artful relationship to life itself. What you do then becomes artful. And, it becomes a habit. In this way, as individuals, and as a society, we can begin to deconstruct the great mess we have made of the world, or the mess that we were born into. We can peel apart its layers and re-purpose them, and make the ordinary into something extraordinary.