A marble-white sculptural form lies perched atop a grassy knoll, resting heavily on the ground beneath. At first glance the image appears to be all stone, stoic and unmoving in its cold curvature. A glance through another lens, however, will attest to the life around the sculpture, buzzing in the air molecules and breeze surrounding it. This concept of the space surrounding an object is called negative space. Not only does the space surround the object, it often contributes to its artistic form by providing dimensionality and hollowness to a robustly tangible image. Considering negative space in the visual plane is a viewpoint a person can enhance with practice. This becomes possible by noticing how the space around an object actually brings the image into being by simply defining the boundaries within which it exists perceptibly. Art and physical imagery, however, are not the only areas that show negative space.
|Artist: Henry Moore|
Consider the way an individual presents who they are to the world. Imagine a complex personality, visual appearance, emotional expression and moral code mingling together to project the image of who a person is. Often not all of these components are proudly presented by an individual; some aspects of a person’s character or internal experience of their life are kept hidden out of the perceptive experience of themselves or others. This represents the negative space within human behavior; the components of our selves that are not readily present, measurable, or evident through our embodiment. Additionally the negative space in human behavior can also account for the aspects of ourselves that we cannot fully grasp in consciousness, or things we cannot accept about ourselves. The realm of the unconscious and the human experience of denial can push memories, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions into a negative space where they do not exist tangibly, but remain active participants in creating the backdrop of the human psyche.
A therapeutic approach based on wholeness might encourage an individual to provide witness to the negative space within their own experience. Providing witness allows a person to notice the aspects of their self that are lingering in the background of their psyche without feeling the need to modify, change, or disrupt these parts of the self. Carl Jung may have called these areas of negative space the shadow of the individual’s psyche. The shadow has been known to be the aspects of a person’s self or experience that are not consciously acknowledged, or are being hidden from perception due to the believed unacceptable or unpleasant nature of these areas of the psyche. While various psychological theories might identify the background space which is often unacknowledged in a person’s experience in a variety of ways, the bottom line remains the same: whether accepted or not, the visible qualities of a person’s behavior can only represent part of who they truly are.
In many ways the perspective a person takes in seeing another individual can be experienced similarly to the way a person notices a sculptural artwork. Certain individuals may glance quickly at the image, noticing the general shape, form, and color of the piece before moving onward to the next tangible form. Others might take more time to thoughtfully consider the lines and shapes evident in the sculpture without noticing that the form is created by the formlessness surrounding it. Yet another genre of people might see the form through the spaces of negativity apparent in its composition, noticing how the contributing factors of the absence of form serve to enhance the tangibility of the artwork itself. Individuals can be perceived through any of these lenses as well.
Depending on how the observer prioritizes their conceptualization of perception, they will likely interpret those around them accordingly. Noticing the inherent projection of an individual’s identity through the way they show themselves to the world allows the witness only a slice of knowledge into the person they are observing. In order to grasp a full picture of any thing--human or otherwise--we must take into account those parts of each individual that are not readily apparent. Noticing the absence of a trait can be equally intriguing as noticing its obviously portrayed counterpart. It is the combination of readily apparent qualities mixed with the often formless nonattendance of other traits that creates the window into true perception. After all, how could a sculpture have been created in the first place without bringing hollowness, dynamic curvature, and empty space into its form to support the solidity of the material itself?