The Negative Space

For centuries, artists and creative people have been associated with mental illness.  The number of talented and outstanding poets, painters, musicians and actors who have “lost their minds” or died young is astounding.  But is wasn’t always so.

In a TED talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert explained how in ancient Greece, artists and creators were not said to BE geniuses.  They were said to HAVE  a genius.  The notion was that the genius was an external force, like a fairy, hiding in your work space, giving you direction and helping with your creation.  This, if you think about it, took a lot of pressure off the person as an individual.  If you created something amazing, there was no pressure to top it, as it was up to your fairy-genius, not you.  If you created something bad, it was the fault of your fairy, and you could try again.  During the renaissance, things changed and people took on the honour and responsibility of being the centre of their universes.  The genius was internalized and since then, has been wreaking havoc with the psyche of the creator, as we internalize the pressure and fear of failure, as well as the success.

There is no getting around it.  Creating is hard.  There are times when inspiration flows limitlessly and we can bask in the ease and relish the beauty of it.  But there are times when we are alone.  There is no inspiration, no idea, no desire to work.  Our genius has left us.  What do we do in those times?  We simply cannot give up.  It’s not an option.  To give up would be to kill off a part of our deepest selves…  so what do we do?

We use the negative space.

In art, negative space is shadow.  When we look at a picture, we tend to look at the colour first, the part where the light shines.  But if you look deeper, every good painting or picture will also have negative space.  That is what gives it depth and makes it more realistic, more rich…. and THAT is what we use.  

Any negative thought or situation can be used for the creation of our work.  Facing criticism from colleagues?  How does that make you feel?  Use that emotion to write an article about something similar.  Facing the loss of a loved one?  Write about the loss, the depth, the fear, the anger.  Use that energy to type it, write, it, draw it and play it out.  Excited about an upcoming joyous event?  Excited energy is contagious too!  Share the energy, even if you don’t share the details.  When you are feeling lonely, know that your keyboard and your notebook are right there.  Your words will swell up inside you as you stare at the blank page and they will spill out into your creative space.

Use the negative space.  If you cannot face writing or creating then use the negative space to rest.  Properly rest.  Take time off.  Switch off your mind and your thoughts and your pressure.  Allow yourself the time in that negative space to be shadow.  In time, the light will change and you will be illuminated again.  But for that time, rest in the knowledge that it’s ok.  

Being an artist of any kind, means portraying LIFE to people.  That is why we love it.  That is why everyone loves it in one form or another.  The negative space allows us to experience more of life, and so it is a gift.  It makes our lives richer and deeper and allows us to understand more of the human condition, more of ourselves and what we need, and also what we are capable of.

So when the negative comes, remember that it is also a tool and a gift.  And embrace the negative space as you continue to embrace your artistic and creative self.

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Kelly Naude

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