“Music is the space between the notes,” Claude Debussy said. The space between the notes? Yes, the pause, the silence. The note not played is as important as the note that is played. In drama, they know they have to “let the moment land.” The pause strengthens and engages the viewer as strongly as what is said out loud. This is something that can be observed across art forms.
How does this relate to painting? Think positive and negative shapes. The space/shape that’s there and the one that’s “not there”. Look up the symbol of yin and yang, NBC’s peacock or WWF’s panda.
In the grand scheme of things we could compare this principle to the cycle of day and night. But what do all these examples tell us? What’s the bottom line here? The bottom line is that balance has got to be established. That’s how the universe works. Neither is good nor bad, both are equals in the sense that they are essential components of the whole. Our western culture does not look kindly at anything labeled “negative”. Often our way of dealing with the negative is to close our eyes to it and pretend it doesn’t exist. No surprise that in painting too, the negative is being neglected. We push the negative from our lives and from our minds. Yet we cannot function properly without accepting the fact that each coin has two sides. What we need is a different way of looking at the negative. Which leads me to the “concept of visual weight”.
As humans, we have a strong sense of physical balance embedded into our bodies. We depend on it every day without realizing it. When we are consuming, it’s really not required to be conscious of it. But when we elevate ourselves to create something, what we make needs to be infused with the same inherent sense of balance. We can feel when things are askew. Look at a picture that’s not hung level and you’ll feel the need to straighten it. If anything is not balanced well, we feel it in our bodies, just as we can feel when proper balance is established. Basic exercises improving one’s sense of visual weight include putting a shape down anywhere on the paper and adding more shapes to balance it out, putting them where it feels right. We intuitively know. Further imposition of pattern on the work of art takes matters further still – it introduces the complexity of balancing sizes and spacing of color shapes, both positive and negative within a picture plane. This then creates a rhythm. And rhythm is everything. Reading a poem comes to mind. Poems have a rhythm to them even if the rhyme is not particularly clean and obvious. We are living beings that absorb and emit energy and the rhythm expresses the movement of that energy. When we are sensitive enough to the flow of energy, we can perceive it as an underlying pattern.
There is no great conclusion to this article. This is more or less a stream of thoughts that are not a solution by themselves. My hope is that they may perhaps open your eyes to a new way of seeing, help you shift your perspective and start noticing underlying patterns. To give you some overview of what’s going on. Encourage you to look further into these issues. All I try to do in the Think & Paint series is to show you that there is a bigger picture to painting and art. The first step is to notice it and acknowledge it. It is interesting to see how little we know about how we function. The modern scientific research is unparalleled today to any period in the history of human kind, yet we hardly know ourselves.
As for the practical application, I will be further discussing this topic in my Design series. In the meantime, share your thoughts in the comments down below.