Negative space, the space that surrounds a primary object or objects in an image, is a term gleaned from the art world. But it turns out to have a whole lot to do with funk music, too. During the first Piano & A Microphone concert at Paisley Park on Jan. 21, 2016, Prince said, “The space between the notes — that’s the good part. How long the space is — that’s how funky it is or how funky it ain’t.”
Funk would not be funky without the well-timed pause created by negative space. Yet, that all-important negative space gets no fanfare. Although a particularly moving high note or one of Prince’s patented screams would garner delighted cheers from an audience, you’ll never hear anyone exclaim with joy over “what a particularly well-placed pause between notes!” Negative space doesn’t get noticed on its own merits: It has to be brought to your attention.
Poor negative space! It gets no praise when it shows up and does its job. Instead, negative space is only noticed if it’s missing. And when it’s missing, the reaction might be one of criticism: “That band had no ability to lay down a funk groove.”
As an introvert, I can’t help but note the parallels between negative space and the introvert’s role in the world (yep, always advocating for the introverts). Introverts hold space for the extroverts. Imagine a bunch of talkative extroverts without a listener! Imagine music without a well-timed pause! Personally, I think it’s good to be an introvert. It’s good to have the role of providing that negative space.
In life, what’s not there is as important as what is there. And that’s what I keep working on: I try to remember to be as grateful for the things in life that could have happened and didn’t, as for the things that did. The cyst that turned out to be benign. The accident I avoided by leaving the house two minutes late. The book proposal that got rejected and that would have taken my career in the wrong direction if accepted.
Over to you. Have you ever tried noticing negative space? And is there anything in your life that didn’t happen, and turned out to be the best thing for you?