Thursday, January 9, 2014

Failure Coach X

Negative Space

Alan has been thinking a lot about negative space. It started when he got a phone call from Bill Donius, the former Bank CEO who wrote a book called Thought Revolution:Unlock your Inner Genius. Bill was talking to him about the right brain/left brain thing. The two met on a flight back from Cleveland quite by chance. Alan was in Cleveland on a media tour and Bill was in meeting with Changing Lives Press (which happens to be located at 50 Public Square).  

That led Alan to his checking out Drawing on the Right Hand Side of the Brain Betty Edwards from the HQ branch of the West County library. He was struck by her  discussion of negative space using the cartoon image of Bugs Bunny speeding along and running through a door. What you’ll see in the cartoon, she says, is a door with a bunny shaped hole in it. Negative space, is the space around the object, in this case Bugs Bunny.

Negative space is a compositional tool used by artists. It is the space where other things are not present. Leonardo's The Last Supper for example. The negative space between Jesus (in the middle of the painting) and the person immediately to his right is causing a V-shaped negative space. (Some speculate that space is hiding secrets.) M.C. Escher, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasserely and Op artists often use negative space in intriguing ways in which we are left wondering what, exactly, is negative and what is positive. Incidentally, negative space is no "negative" connotation. It's actually a wonderful, if often neglected, design element. Properly used, as with Henry Moore's sculptures, or Zen brush paintings, or even your basic Rorschach test ink blots, it is just as important as what is there.

Aha! Thinks Alan. An aha moment. This negative space concept is a good thing.  A failure orientation, is similarly, about focusing on those things outside of your own control. Donius wants me to buy into the inner genius idea but I need people to see their negative space as the opportunity. Once you understand what surrounds you, you begin to understand what must change. In some ways this is a more painful process since it focuses outwardly instead of so much focus on trying to change oneself. You can’t give 110%. What you can do is change things in your environment. You can get the right people on the bus and make sure they are sitting in the right friggin’ seats if you are working your negative space. That is it! Aha!

Alan Edgewater is feverishly writing notes about the negative space thing on a yellow legal pad. (Even as he wonders for just a moment why lawyers need 14” as he’s never seen a lawyer write anything the full length of such a sheet. That includes his pal Caster.)

Negative space. Get an artist to demonstrate this with sculpture from clay or block of ice or painting. Get examples of good use of negative space. Op artists, M.C. Escher, Victor Vasserely, Zen, Rorschach, Japanese Gardens, Matisse cut outs…  

Alan goes on to fill several pages of stream of consciousness thinking. It’s late and he puts the pad aside with a plan to review it in the morning. He feels good about the direction, even wondering if his next book could be Negative Space.

Would a book about negative space be nontraditional in its design? Ask Bluestone what he thinks. Would the cover be one of those images that tricks your eye into seeing a vase at first glance and facial profiles at another look? Does such a book read left to right? Front to back? Die cuts? Orgami. Cut Paper? Is there anything in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers that help illustrate this negative space?    

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