In high school Art class, we learned about composition. We learned to fill the space unpredictably, to off-center the focal point in order to create interest. We learned that negative spaces, the shapes – both organic and geometric – left white or blank were equally as important as the filled or positive spaces. Compositions without this negative space revealed a busy-ness that created chaos and evoked stress by adding clutter. Sometimes compositions were so small and meticulous that the negative space outweighed the subject matter and created its own emptiness, taking away from expression altogether.
In a sense, negative spaces exist in our own lives. Think about conversations you’ve had with loved ones. Have you ever noticed that the better you know someone, the more you’re affected by what they do not say in response to your stories or explanations?
I remember conversations I had with my mother. When I would describe a dialogue between a friend and myself, or an argument with a husband, I could tell when she was repressing her true opinions simply because of the silence – the silence was her negative space. The moments of pause created a thinking space. And rather than adding to my stress in the re-telling, or drudging up my defenses, those moments forced thought and reflection. She never returned to the negative spaces in order to fill in the gaps with her opinions or direction. Instead, she let them stand for themselves, leaving me to fill in the blanks.
Since her death, I find myself still having those conversations with her, sometimes as if she were right beside me. Amazingly, I still know where to insert those negative spaces. I still pause for reflection, and wait for an answer to come to me from somewhere outside of myself, and separate from her. Those pauses are pivotal and decisive, and sometimes louder than the conversation itself.
I’ve noticed the same negative spaces in conversations with my best friend over the past weeks. Without her saying a word, my mind fills in the gaps for her, and her restraint reveals a respect for me more than words ever could.
With so much talk about negativity, and how we should steer ourselves away from dark thoughts, anything described as ‘negative’ can get a bad rap. In truth, negative spaces are nowhere in the same universe, they are a thing to be relished, admired, and practiced. Because in the art of conversation, negative spaces are just as important, and sometimes more-so than the words themselves.
Speak often, listen frequently, and allow for negative spaces – they are positively and politely pertinent.