Years ago a teacher once said to me when I was a student in an art class, “You should consider not using so much white space.” I looked at her incredulously. Yes, my work pinned to the critique wall was markedly different than the wild expressions of the other students’ work that filled the board. Mine was made of pure forms with a lot of white space, or negative space surrounding them; the uncovered virgin-white paper a statement in itself.
For me, that remark was something like “change your soul.” It was similar to the shaming I received as a young girl from my mother “you are too sensitive.” Growing up I struggled to fit in a loud world & embrace the social norms that my young culture revered. The music was too loud, venues claustrophobic, & the presence of too many people intimidating. I was a misfit among misfits.
The book that rocked my perceptions of myself was “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain. Suddenly my quirkiness made sense to me. I was an introvert. My previous perceptions of introverts were individuals that were uncomfortable with all social interactions. Not so. Now I realize Introverts can be social & have many connections. The difference is we need to retreat to quiet to achieve balance in our lives.
I liken these respites to the white spaces in my artwork, the spaces in between the active parts where the eye can rest. These pauses are a time of rejuvenation and, in my life, can be anything from a walk, a nap, reading a book, walking my dogs, gardening – or anything that brings my being back from the chaos of daily life. Conversely, now I understand why the extroverts of our society want to bring us introverts into the fold of busy-ness. They thrive in that energy & the majority sets the standards of what is normal.
After reading “Quiet,” I learned to honor the introverts in my classroom when I was teaching. If a student felt uncomfortable working in a group I allowed them to work alone. As long as they were learning, I was fine with their style. I’ve learned to honor my own pace when traveling or hiking rather than suffering to keep up with wants of others. For me, it’s not the destination but the jewels I find in-between point A & point B. That might be as simple as a flower, a rock, or a conversation with a local.
Our driven multitasking culture celebrates doing more than being. It would be healthy everyone, to slow down and find oneself in the spaces in between & honor those who march to a different beat. The magic for me is in the white space of life. In these pauses, I can ponder, wonder, & feel whole in a world that moves at too fast of a pace for my tastes. It’s been a relief to let go of the expectations of others & accept myself. In the meantime, I still enjoy making art with a lot of white space.