Recently I joined a watercolor class. It meets in Seal Beach on Wednesdays and is instructed by my own Mamma, Bobbi Boyd. Aside from the fun of getting to paint every week and the fact that my mom is really a great teacher, I like this class because the other painters are so interesting. Get a table full of creative women together and the conversation is bound to be dynamic.
At my first visit one of the women, Nicole, brought up some research she had come across on a German media program (she’s German). Neuroscience has shown that the brain actually forms memories during periods of inactivity following an event. So, Nicole explained, she now understands why her two little girls often seem to space out after they’ve been studying something. Another woman in the group, (who I happen to know pretty well because she was my natural childbirth instructor), said that she often gets the solution to whatever problems she’s facing if she lets herself sit in stillness for awhile. Again, just spacing out.
These valuable periods of inaction remind me of a parallel concept in art: negative space. The idea is that the empty areas in an artwork have equal importance to the active, filled-in areas. We use negative space when creating art, as in being able to accurately see the shape of a three dimensional object and translate it to the canvas. We also use negative space when viewing art. The space has presence of its own and counterbalances the presence of the depicted subject.
Just before typing this I’ve been staring at a beautiful example. In our living room stands a life-size portrait made by artist Amanda Harrison. While the figure obviously dominates, I find I can sit for great stretches of time just examining the white areas. The negative space. There is such a sense of air and light breathing through the emptiness.
In life as in art, there is a great harmony achieved when we allow for emptiness. Periods of unstructured time. Moments of spacing out. Staring at the sky. Daydreaming. Wondering. I think, but I’m not yet experienced to know, this will be an important concept to remember when I’m raising my kids. Aaron’s so young still, but I want to give him the same freedom as he gets older that I had as a kid. The freedom to gaze long into the open spaces and find the company of my own thoughts, dreams and visions.