Art and Empty Space

Negative Expanses Add the Viewer’s Imagination as a Dimension

William House
Mar 31 · 4 min read
Road to Buddha’s Farm by WM House (Author)

The human mind works beyond the level of consciousness, providing a mechanism of filling gaps in our perceptions, making the pieces into a whole. The expansive use of negative space in visual art opens the door for the mind to do what it does best and exercise its innate creativity. Japanese ink washes are known for their use of negative space.

The image below is an example of a work by the 16th-century Japanese master Hasegawa Tōhaku. Note the delicate use of black ink washes that fade into the background mist of pale negative space.

“Pine Trees” by Hasegawa Tōhaku (Japanese, 1539–1610). The painting has been designated as National Treasure in the paintings category. (Emuseum, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons )

Of course, there is nothing magic about the negative space being white or the imagery being monochrome. The artistic concept of negative space is important for any work of art. Where portions of the image fade from the viewer’s perception, art forces the human mind to derive meaning in areas where form disappears. In essence, the artist provides partial definition, letting the viewer’s imagination add its own unique overlay to the artwork. Call the art two-dimensional, if you will, but it causes the human mind to add additional dimensions to the scene it is viewing.

Science, Technology, and Digital Transformations

Divergent Arcs by WM House (Author) — A digitally modified version of analog art

Divergent Arcs started as a field sketch from beside a small river in the piedmont region of the State of Virginia, United States. The overhung tree sketch was transposed onto a black-and-white watercolor with the shoreline and three stones added as diverging arcs into an open expanse on the left side of the painting. The progression of the stones into the flat, open negative space allows the viewer’s mind to relax as it transitions between form and infinity.

Computer science and technology have transformed the art world, and crypto art now offers us art with no extant presence. The digital transformation from an analog version of art has become an important part of the creative process. To be clear, this process does not necessarily make the art better or worse. It simply makes it different. The viewer’s eye may discern more beauty in either the digital or the original, but this becomes a personal preference. An image of the original watercolor for this work is shown below for comparison.

Divergent Arcs — Original Analog Version by WM House (Author)

All art first originates in the mind of the artist. But the negative spaces in a work of art open up the scene to the viewers imagination. The feature picture for this article is a work of imagination.

Memories are imprecise, and some pictures that we hold within our minds are purely composites of thousands of scenes we have viewed. Essentially they are art arising out of the imagination with no analog photo or sketch as a guide. Road to Buddha’s Farm is one such work of art. The countless dirt roads I walked as a child in the coastal, piedmont, and Appalachian regions of Virginia left a lasting impression — roads leading to and from old wooden houses and small farms, some abandoned and others not.

This artwork captures those roads. The forms of trees and a dirt road fade in all directions into expanses of negative space sweeping to the right. The road first carries the eye to the center of the image, and the negative space leaves the rest of the scene to the viewer’s imagination. Is it a road in the tidewater, piedmont, or mountain region of the state? Yes.

Digitally Creating Negative Space

I have heard it argued that computer-enhanced art is not an honest artistic endeavor, but I would disagree. Visual art is built on three foundations: creativity, technique, and tools. An oil-on-canvas painting originates as a creative idea in the artist’s mind. Through the artist’s experience, he or she has developed techniques for expressing creative imagery onto canvas, and brushes, palette knives, paints, and mediums are the tools used to apply that technique.

Computer applications focused on digital art, are tools providing a wide range of visual effects and modifications the artist can use to develop new techniques for expressing their creativity.

Riverside Original by WM House (Author)

The watercolor above, once moved into the Adobe Creative Cloud, can be transformed into a black and white ink drawing, with the background fading into a negative space.

Riverside Modified by WM House (Author)

The same painting can have two distinct looks depending on the artist’s creative vision. Technology advances in digital art have given individual artist's a versatile set of new tools, allowing them to develop new techniques for their creative endeavors, including the use of negative space in their work.

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William House

Written by

Exploring relationships between people and our planet — Stories and articles promoting science, art, environmental awareness, and human insights.

DropStone

DropStone

A dropstone falls to the ocean floor, becoming buried where it doesn’t belong — an exotic newcomer to an otherwise homogenous terrain. The DropStone publication is a home for creative stories, dropped into an environment where they can spark new ideas and insights.

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