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What’s so negative about White space?

Here, there, and everywhere in-between, space animates, defines and breathes life into form.
Traditionally referred to as negative space, ‘white space’ is the space that surrounds the focal point or ‘positive’ space of a composition. But don’t be deceived. Both positive and so-called negative spaces are major structural players.
In fact artists, writers, web-designers and composers are embracing the capacity that WHITE SPACE has to transform and define a mark, brushstroke, word, type, or a simple sound, in extraordinary and thrilling ways. White space is the shape shifting, breathing space that defines the ‘positive space’ or focal point of a 2-D or 3-D work of art.


The question is this. Why is it so important?
From a compositional perspective, it is a vital structural element and it is this synergy between space and form that creates a sense of balance. Line, shape, colour, value, texture and SPACE…it is the playful Juxtaposition or balance of these elemental forces that draws you, the viewer, into a rich two and three dimensional landscape with its very own visual language.
So how negative really is it?
Doesn’t the word ‘negative’ by default suggest a space devoid of energy?
With so many misconceptions around the role of negative space, it would be easy to underrate this seemingly empty space and perceive it as a second rate additional space: the understudy.

Greater than the sum of its parts

White space is the spacing between different elements of a composition but that in no way means that it is empty. Think of it like this. The colour white, although perceived as a neutral colour, ultimately reveals the occupied space. One needs the other. White space has an inherently vital part to play, defining, energising and animating form (positive space) to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
The depiction, illusion or representation of space and its synergistic relationship with form, is a fundamental compositional element in all of the visual arts. Whilst photographers endeavour to represent and interpret space, an architect may build space, (The web designer uses white space to enhance readability) an artist may merely hint at it or create the illusion of depth.

Creating depth and meaning

Indeed, one could argue that you cannot translate one fully without the other. For many artists, from masters to new contemporaries, the dialogue between objects and the ‘white’ space around them can also be found to enhance the conceptual and surreal value of art work (for example, the compositional magic of Magritte). Language in all mediums is used to communicate and express and above all to make sense of the world around us on many different levels. Just as syntax, the meaningful combination of words, gives language its backbone, the placement, proportions and playful use of space can create both depth and meaning.
White space is far from negative and anything but neutral.