The Power of White Space


Negative space, also known as white space, is where nothing appears to be. In sculpture, the negative space is what makes the positive space so powerful.

In a positive focused society, we see what is, and rarely take the time to consider what isn’t. We focus on the solid and tangible, forgetting that it is the intangible compliment that completes the whole picture. Think yin yang. Positive and negative are rarely equal in size and shape, but usually equal in importance.

In bonsai, it’s the space between the branches that creates a sense of movement. The mass of positive areas, the branches, appear to be moving toward the negative areas. It’s this dynamic relationship that attracts and holds a viewer’s attention.  

In music, the rest between the notes is what gives the notes their punch. It is the white space that gives the listener time to anticipate the next beat.

We don’t always understand what we see and hear as a dynamic relationship between black and white space. But, underneath our threshold of perception, we constantly look for the relationships of positive and negative, cause and effect, form and void. Ones and zeros, the foundation of binary code are based on the same principle.

If an answer is a verbal form of positive space, it complements the void created by a question, the negative space. When people describe the impact of a sculpture, they focus on the form, not the void that makes the form possible.

The reason thought leadership conferences are so valuable is the exchange of knowledge - a dynamic re-positioning of black and white space, question and answer, void and form. It’s a great opportunity to reorganize perception of what is, what isn’t, and what could be.

This week, I’m in Boston for the 5th annual Front End of Innovation conference.   Summaries of what I see and hear will be posted on this blog.