Sunday, June 12, 2011

Defining the Absence

When any creative piece is crafted the artist must analyze and interpret a number of elements to bring their vision to life. Just as a painter or sculptor must consider the aspects that they must insert into their composition they must also consider how they will use what they will not include.

The Negative Space of a composition is just as integral to the piece as every brush stroke or chisel mark. The artist can use it to add depth to the composition, further define the structure of the piece and act as a transition between the elements.

As an artist sculpts their piece from the void they select the elements that will serve the piece best whether by insertion or omission. The negative space is not a simple void but strategically implemented space that can bring the composition to life. Sculptors often utilize the negative space of a piece to draw the shadows and light the piece with emotion much like a writer can wield implications through omitted events. That which is omitted can bring events, actions and even emotions for characters into sharper focus.

While the negative space defines the piece, the structure and shape of that space can be molded to guide the audience's perception. In the visual arts this can be done to define the focal point of the piece, while a literary perception on this can be called a theme. A specific attempt by the creator to shape a piece towards one singular point, one event, that the creator wishes to convey.

The most common use of negative space in any creative piece is it's use as a transitional element to prevent inconsistencies or detract from the piece. It is not only more powerful to bypass the 'mundane' parts to keep the piece cohesive but by leveraging that negative space a piece can enhance the emotional impact of what is crafted.

In writing, negative space is just as prevalent as in any other art. When characters are describing traveling to location and the next scene is the characters at that location the journey to that location is implied, it is negative space. When characters act according to their past history but do not explain it, it is implied even though it is omitted. These omissions in the writing are actually the negative space in the piece.

In any creative piece what is sculpted and what is omitted are equally important elements. While there is an extensive amount of attention that is given to what is crafted, it is imperative to understand that what is omitted is still integral to the structure of the piece and has its own impact.

How do you use the negative space? Do you arrange your piece with the impact of that space in mind?


Michele Shaw said...

I struggle with this. I usually have to fill it in the first go round to keep myself moving, and then I go back and eliminate the fat. May sound silly, but it's just how I work. Hey, if I was normal, would I be a writer? ;P Another great post!

PW.Creighton said...

Michele, well said. 'Normal' wouldn't give us the fuel we need for our work. If we think of writing as a composition then there will be negative space even if it is crafted with words. The question is how do we perceive it? Many writers get too close to the project to think in such terms but that negative space should be orchestrated just like the positive space... what is written.

Jacqvern said...

Hi :D

Negative space is widely used in the study of perception in psychology. I enjoyed it very much when I took psychology courses, the most common image used was the young lady vs. the old lady. It's amazing how the brain works. :D

However, that works in two-dimensional images. 3D is more complicated and the brain focuses on the three dimensions, which does not allow the perception of the negative space. To be able to see the negative space on a three-dimensional model, you have to reduce it to the two-dimensional aspect of it.

According to that, when you look at a sculpture, which is always a three-dimensional state in space and it's not a picture, it's not possible to see the negative space. Shadows and light lines, do not provide negative space, since they constantly change.

To identify negative space of a sculpture, you need to photograph each angle and look at the photos. It's difficult to isolate the third dimension with the naked eye. Needs a lot of training for the eye and the brain, which most people don't have because they don't need to.

Regarding writing: It's an interesting idea to try and view the gaps in the story as negative space. However, I don't think I agree with it :D.

Negative space, as defined, is related to the sense of sight. When reading, sight is used to register words, not pictures. The brain translate the words into pictures, sounds, smells and feelings. It's different for every reader though. The fantasy of every person to fill in the gaps works in different ways. So, I'm not sure that the negative space notion applies to writing and reading. The first issue is that negative space in an image provides one alternative, as I mentioned above, the young lady vs. the old lady. One is positive and one is negative. Three-dimensional images are reduced to two-dimensional to identify the negative space. Again, only one other alternative.

But in a story, the gaps might provide as many alternatives as the number of readers. Do I make sense? LOL.

Ok, you just fried my brain with the article, that's my negative space right now. I'll stop the comment here, because it takes a lot of space to put my thoughts in order. Sorry for the very long comment.

Thank you for the much thought-provoking post :D

PW.Creighton said...

Jacqvern, thanks for the insight. If I can spur thinking in a different direction then I know I'm successful. In this we've made comparisons between compositions in a 2d plane before and in any sculpture class you can recognize a positive space and the negative or empty space of a piece that can be orchestrated to give these perceptions. In this instance (for writing) I am interpreting negative space as that which is omitted while what is included is still the positive space. It's those omissions that can change the impact of a piece. Again thank you for the insight, you really dove in and I really appreciate that analytical approach. Kudos!

Carol R. said...

PW, great photograph with a very thought-provoking article. As an artist, I've used negative space as an important element in my work, whether line drawings, paintings, working with fibers, or creating baskets. That vision impacts the way I see the world around me.

Until today, I hadn't considered the use of negative space in my writing. Thanks for reminding me of what's been important to me most of my life, that negative space is vital to any work of art. Well written!

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