Just how important are empty spaces? Very!

Published 9:20 am Thursday, June 10, 2010

Let’s contemplate the idea of spaces — empty spaces. Can we get along without them? No. Are they important in art? Yes.

This column came about when I read the question recently, “How important is the space between words?”


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Wow! So — is space nothing or something?

There is the space between people when they are disagreeing and standing across the room from each other. That space isn’t empty. It’s loaded with antagonism.

Then there’s the space between two people who really care a lot about each other and whose hands are almost touching. There’s emotion in that space too and the need to reach out, to close the gap.

There’s the space between two cars on the highway. When one passes the other, that narrow space determines safety or danger.

And, when you are in an airplane and looking out the window, there appears to be nothing but space between you and the ground. I try not to think about it.

When you draw a circle, the closed line defines a boundary. Nothing can get out, or in. If you leave just a little space between the beginning of the line and the ending, you create a different setting, allowing movement back and forth — movement of things or ideas or color.

What about the space in a conversation when words don’t come to mind? It may be comfortable, or then again, it could be very uncomfortable making you want to leave the room.

What about the space in between two people when your eyes meet, and you feel the connection.

Then there’s the space between a small child’s hands and a hot stove. A fraction of an inch can cause big pain and big tears.

Or, the space between a football and the goalposts — causing cheers or groans to echo throughout the rest of the space.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to descend through the entrance tunnel of an Egyptian pyramid. As I made my way down the wooden boardwalk hanging on to the railing, and bent over because of the low ceiling, I was descending towards a burial chamber of the Pharaoh Khafre. I knew that around and above me there were more than two million stones each weighing two tons, yet I was heading for an empty space, empty except for the pharaoh’s sarcophagus. Empty space? I don’t think so. I was surrounded by almost four thousand years of history. The space was alive with questions.

Where am I going with this?

When you are creating a piece of art, the empty space carries a vital message. It balances the object on the other side of the paper, it emphasizes the design or color of the drawn object, it provides a restful quality, and it tells part of the story. Without the space, the composition would have an entirely different feeling.

When you enter an art gallery, the paintings or sculptures on display draw your attention, but the space in between the pieces gives each of them an individuality, allowing for the feeling to come forth. In order to really see a piece of art, you cannot be distracted by a busy background. The work is complimented by the surrounding empty space.

And, our lives are like that, too.

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center currently showing the paintings and photography of Linda Draper and Ryan Heath. Their exhibit features both realism and abstract art.