Table of Contents
- Positive and Negative Space
- Positive and Negative Space Art Examples
- Positive and Negative Space in Composition
- Lesson Summary
Positive and negative space are two terms that go together to describe an important feature of art. Positive space is, broadly speaking, any space in a work of art that makes up the work's content. The foreground of a piece is positive space. But what is negative space? Space that appears blank or that is in the background of a piece is considered negative space. This positive space art definition is not quite sufficient, however: positive space and negative space are both essential to the experience of viewing art, and one cannot exist without the other. They are part of a mutual relationship within the art.
What is positive space in art? There are many positive and negative space art examples that have been used throughout the history of art. These elements are used in many kinds of art, including drawing, photography, painting, and sculpture. Discerning how positive and negative space is used a given artwork is an important part of artistic analysis. Here are some examples of positive and negative space in art and how viewers can interpret these phenomena.
Positive and negative space drawing examples are perhaps best illustrated using optical illusions. An optical illusion tricks the brain into making assumptions about positive and negative space. A good example of positive space drawing is the famous rabbit and duck illusion. The image's positive space is a drawing of an animal, but is the animal a rabbit, facing right, or a duck, facing left? By interpreting the positive space differently, viewers also reinterpret the role and composition of the negative space around the image.
Positive and negative space can also be used in photography. When it comes to positive space, photography usually includes a subject in the foreground that viewers are expected to focus on. The negative or apparently blank space around the subject serves to emphasize the positive space used in the foreground. Negative space photography is often used for portraiture, advertising, and other kinds of photography that wants to create a focus on a particular element in the image.
In painting, positive and negative space can have a profound effect on how people understand what they are seeing. One thing to keep in mind is that in painting in particular, negative space is often black or another color rather than white. Negative space painting is especially clear in paintings that utilize chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and shadows. This can increase the contrast in a work and help viewers focus on what is important in a piece. Negative space in painting can also lend a strong emotional quality to the work by putting increased emphasis on the subjects of the painting.
When it comes to positive and negative space in sculpture, the concept has to be interpreted slightly differently. In sculpture, negative space is usually empty space. What elements of the statue are missing? What gaps exist? These gaps can drastically change how viewers interpret sculptures. Many sculptors have judiciously used positive and negative space for a wide variety of artistic reasons. In this sculpture, for example, the artist has used negative space to indicate the eyes in the figures.
Tessellation is also called tiling. It is a way of using positive and negative space to create a pattern. In a tessellation, a single image is repeated in such a way that it fits together to create a broad pattern. In tessellations, positive and negative space are equally important and are in fact impossible to separate; a given image is both a positive space in itself and a negative space in relation to the images around it. Negative space design is important to give emphasis to the right parts of a pattern.
Positive and negative space are important for artists to consider when creating their pieces. Composition, in the context of art, is the way that a canvas, sculpture, or art piece comes together. How are positive and negative space used? What is the subject of the artwork? What is shown and what is not shown? There are a few ways that positive and negative space can be used to unusual effect in artistic composition.
Figure and ground are two terms that are closely related to positive and negative space. The figure of a work of art is the subject of the piece, while the ground is the object against which it is framed. The figure-ground relationship is the perceptual distinction that viewers make between the subject and object of a work of art. This can result in some strange optical illusions when people have varied assumptions about the figure and ground (or the positive and negative space) in a work of art if the figure-ground relationship is ambiguous. A great example is the famous illusion of the vase and two faces. Depending on which part of the image is perceived as the figure and which is perceived as the ground, viewers might see a vase or they might see two faces looking at one another.
Gestalt psychology is a psychological theory that attempts to understand how visual perception works. The relationship between positive and negative space in art can lead to interesting visual tricks in the brain. For instance, in this image, many people will likely see a sea serpent. However, the image itself is just a few black lines in white space. The relationship between positive and negative space allows people to fill in the gaps and create a coherent image based on a fragmented knowledge of its parts. Optical illusions are the result of these kinds of perceptual tricks in which the image that people perceive is different from the object as it actually exists. Human brains are excellent at making these kinds of connections, which is part of what makes optical illusions so effective and so entertaining.
Understanding positive and negative space is important in art.
|Positive space||The central focus or content of a piece|
|Negative space||The background that serves to support the main focus of a piece|
|Figure||The perceived subject of a work|
|Ground||The perceived object of a work|
|Gestalt psychology||Principles that explain the mind's ability to make sense of what it sees based on fragmented knowledge|
Use of positive and negative space is an important part of drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and other art forms.
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