This year, I attended a visual branding course with creative director Sandra Chau whose focus is on minimalist aesthetics. In one session Sandra explained the concept of negative space in photography. Negative space (also called white space) is the uncluttered area in a picture around or next to the main subject of a photograph or picture. It is space that does not contain any visual information. Very often it is a white area, or a plain background, for example a simple wall.
This is no blog post about composition. But Sandra‘s explanations resonated with me beyond photography. I strongly feel that the concept of negative space can add value to our everyday lives, by showcasing and framing what should be the focus, and what is truly important. Here are some more thoughts on this.
Negative space is something that is not there - in a positive way. It is not something that is missing, but rather the absence of anything distracting, harmful or disturbing. This way, negative space serves to highlight or showcase those things that are important. In a conversation, negative space can be the silence to give more weight to something meaningful that was said. It can be a clean worktable to help you focus your thoughts on the task at hand. It can be a free slot in your agenda to do what you feel might serve you best in that moment: a cup of tea, a brisk walk outside, some stretching or just doing nothing.
My predominant thought on negative space in my life is quietude. To me, this is the absence of any kind of unpleasant and disturbing sounds in my immediate environment, such as traffic or construction noise or incessant talking. It does not necessarily mean complete sound-proofness, as refreshing and soothing sounds such as birdsong, sound of the wind or my favorite music, softly playing in the background, can still be in place.
Like a viewer‘s eyes rest on the empty space in a photograph or still life, my auditory sense can rest in silence and calm me down. I need silence to refocus, to find peace with myself and my surroundings and to rewind after a hectic day. I need it so much that I often don‘t want to listen to music all day, and rather treasure those moments when I intentionally switch on the radio or listen to a recording.
Negative space can also mean a mind freed from information overload. Smartphones keep us engaged and constantly available. Challenges at work and at home keep us preoccuppied and worried. Commercials, news and internet keep us distracted, and if we are not careful, we are constantly on alert to external and internal calls for attention. Negative space in my mind allows me to focus, to appreciate what‘s going on right now without distraction, to enjoy a moment of thinking nothing at all, and to have the capacity to take in new sensations.
Stuffed and overdecorated rooms trouble me. I need space around me, in my environment, on my desk, in the bedroom. Space not cluttered with things, clothes and gadgets, but space that is left empty on purpose. Think of the wide hall of a Zen temple, or a spacious living room with the fewest furnishing possible. Empty space lets the observer‘s eyes and mind rest and sets the scene for experiencing a peace and calm that is soothing and comforting.
Negative space lets me focus on what is truly essential in my life. It leads to sense of clarity that allows me to feel free and in control. There is no distraction between my core values and goals ahead and my path is clear in front of me.
When I remove everything unnecessary around me as far as I can, I can thrive through what I AM instead of what I have. My status and my belongings are no longer of importance, but my personality and what I can offer to the world is.
You can take the „absence of“ game further. What appeals to you? The absence of debt, absence of harmful thoughts, absence of pain? Absence of fear, of worries, of stress? It can also mean free time. Time that is not scheduled down to the last minute, time that is available for you to relax, to just be. Time that is not filled with activity or media consumption. This is the time between appointments, between tasks, between agenda items - and by the way, it is not sleep.
Think about how you can create negative space in your hectic day.Through a time-out, a vacation or via little self-care islands in the middle of your working week? It‘s entirely up to you. Experiment with it. Find out what works for you, what replenishes your energy or what helps you relax, depending on your needs.
Imagine your life as a painting, with a lot of negative space highlighting the most precious subject on the canvas - and this should be you.