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Lesson Plans

Re: pos/neg space revised question

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henry (taylorh)
Mon, 21 Apr 1997 17:46:26 -0700 (MST)

"Rules", eh? :)

Try thinking of it as a figure/ground event positive is the stuff you
look at, the which makes sense, the stuff you recognize and pay attention
to. positive space is the dancer/costume/set. Positive space is the letter
or the sentence; the musical notes and beat.

Negative space is the area you typically ignore (unless you are in the
arts) its form is defined by the positive areas, it does not usually make
sense or hold our attention. It is the space around the dancer and
contained by the set that changes instant to instant. It is the white
part of the page, the silence between sounds, the pause between beats.

In non-representational work it seems to be the part that draws your
attention as opposed to what sets it off. This area CAN alternate
figure/ground. red and green stripes can trade-off their role as figure or
ground but a red triangle on a blue square... I mean you at very least
have a name for the triangle but not for a square WITH triangular piece
removed. in abstract sculpture it might be more difficult. You could have
an amorphous shape with a recognizable shape removed from it: a triangle
of air in a rock. We would usually think of the rock as the positive
space but in this case the question of which space was positive or
negative might be arguable, nu?

As to whether a composition can have only negative or positive space, try
cutting off the negative pole of a magnet! Now that is a wholey material
example, but we could extend it via metaphor into the world of ideas and
ask if the qualities denoted by positive or negative can EVER be
sucessfully and completely excluded. I tend to say - no. on a purely
conceptual level I can see an artist making the attempt to achieve
absolute positivity or negativity, its the kind of challenge conceptual
artists like. I retain my doubts about its hypothetical success.

Rules, in the arts, appear to me to rarely succeed at remaining hard and
fast. Sometimes simply deciding which area is positive and which space
negative is confusing and ambiguous. Generally though I's still say that
the entity which was most easy to name or draw a line around
(circumscribe) had the best chance of being the positive candidate.

And yes, I think it can be subjective. If you see the white stripes as
representing a homey picket fence and I see the black stripes as images of
prison bars it might be difficult to pin down one perspective as better
than the other. The color could make all the difference for either of us.


On Sun, 20 Apr 1997, Andrew Long

> thank you all for your examples of positive/negative space. More
> specifically I am looking for the "rules" of what determines the
> positive/negative space. What is the specific definition of
> postive/negative space? Can it be subjective? For instance, if you have
> a square painting that 1/2 was painted red and 1/2 green, is there
> negative space? If there was a different combination of colors, would it
> affect anything? Can a composition have only negative space? Only postive
> space?
> Andrew