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White Space

As an art history major, I theoretically understand the importance of white space. Almost every work of art has it, and it’s almost always essential to making a beautiful piece. Yet understanding it theoretically is very different from understanding it practically. Practicality is really the realm of the artist. It is the artist that is skilled at saying this painting would be better if I didn’t put something in that space.

The problem with my theoretical understanding is that on some level I’m also an artist. I, like you, have many blank canvases in my life to paint. These include my time, my home, and my wardrobe among other things. I often find that these areas of my life are filled with too many things that I don’t love. One of my favorite authors, Leo Babauta, touched on how to remedy this problem in his article, “Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time.” He writes: “You have too many things to fit into your container, and you’ve decided to only put the important and beautiful things into the container. That means a bunch of things you think you “should” do are not going to fit.” What Leo is essentially instructing each of us to do is to become the artists of our own lives. When you boil it down, essentially the work of an artist is to choose – to choose to only depict what is most relevant and beautiful to the subject matter. And in order to emphasize the subject matter, the artist left out a lot of things he might have felt he “should” incorporate. For instance, think about the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso. What makes this painting truly beautiful and meaningful is really what Picasso chose to leave out. Rather than depicting the women as they actually were (as he probably “should” have done as a highly trained visual artist), he chose to depict only their most basic forms, and it is what he left out that makes this painting a modern masterpiece.

As you think about those blank canvases in your life today, and your hope that they be a little more beautiful and meaningful, I invite you to ask yourself, “what can I leave out?” You might just find that this white space is just the thing your life needs to truly come alive.