Saturday, December 21, 2013

Painting The Negative Space

When I was in art school I had a professor who taught us that we should put an equal amount of thought into each square inch of our painting as a matter of good design and integrity toward the future customer who might buy it. This was good advice which influenced my creative approach. Even thirty years later when I paint I tend to get the background or the environment around the main subject mostly done first.

Throughout that process I am learning and thinking about how I will accomplish the primary focus. This helps prevent me from overworking it and to have a more deft touch with brush strokes that look more spontaneous in the places where it counts most. In art school terms the area around the main subject is known as the negative space. It is supposed to be where the viewer’s eyes rest but are at the same time pointed toward the main attraction.  

This painting strategy seems to work for me and, for better or worse, it has been a metaphor for the way I lead my life. Often I find myself concentrating on those things that I have some small measure of control over and putting off the big things like lifelong dreams and goals. It is both a healthy coping mechanism and a procrastinator’s tactic. It works sometimes and not others. It is not an uncommon way of dealing with things.

Recently a friend of mine told me about an older woman who was about to start cancer treatments. She decided that this was a good time to simplify her life and move into a smaller place to live. Now on first consideration, you might say that with all the weakening side effects of cancer medicine this is probably not the most practical time to be moving, which is a stressful event for most people.

But I would like to suggest that this woman’s approach was to paint the negative space. Her plan was going to allow her to not wait idly in fear for an outcome she could not do much to control. Instead she was going to give her health the necessary attention it required and spend the rest of her energy on the part of her environment that she felt she could control learning her limitations as she goes along.

During the holiday season it seems like I spend a lot of time painting the negative space: dealing with a myriad of chores, social obligations, and celebrations, setting aside any attention to the priorities I have the rest of the year. In fact Christmas traditions are a study in such contrasts. Take the holiday colors of red and green – which on the color wheel are opposites or compliments. These represent the blood red sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and his promise of ever green salvation. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

This has deep meaning for many Christians. I personally am not really interested in eternal life. I am more focused on the present and another way of looking at the red and the green. Red represents Jesus’ ministry of unconditional Love. "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" - Matthew 22:37. Green represents the universal eternal presence of God which requires us to live that ministry here and now, no matter how hard that may be to do. "For, in fact, the kingdom of God is here among you." - Luke 17:21

Red - unconditional love - is our main objective. Green is the hard reality of living that objective in the eternal now - the negative space.

My goal during and following the holiday season is to attend to only those things which I am able; giving (hopefully) deft quality energy to the important things. I hope to paint any negative space I encounter with a positive attitude of patience and joy. So on this Solstice, the longest darkest night of the year, I wish you and yours many blessings and warm gatherings of celebration. Let us now look ahead to coming days with greater Light.

1 comment:

  1. I pray that God will grant me the ability to direct my energy toward that which is worthwhile in the struggle toward a better world. I claim the promise that "His eye is on the sparrow" and so surely He is watching me!