Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. Negative space may be most evident when the space around a subject, and not the subject itself, forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space is occasionally used to artistic effect as the “real” subject of an image. – Wikipedia
Our minds tend to focus on and put as the center of attention what we consider to be the most important part of an encounter or scene. Eyes are drawn to the person or the sunset, while other things like the grass are put into the background as less important. The subject is where the excitement is, isn’t it? The background becomes negative space that gives the subject context and form. The background is often ignored.
This emphasis is a matter of perspective.
In cognitive psychology, flipping an image in one’s mind so that the background (negative space) becomes the center of attention is called figure-ground reversal. A classic example of a “multistable” image that lends itself to figure-ground reversal is the Rubin vase (below) in which the black areas surrounding the white vase form shapes that can be viewed as the silhouettes of two faces. The viewer is asked: is it a vase or is it two faces? Both are correct and the answer is a matter of the viewer’s perception.
Which is the figure and which is the background? Where should our attention lie? Which is perceived more strongly by the viewer? Which is the object and which is the negative space?
The same could be asked of a person.
What is the vase of you, the core of you to which you would like to draw attention, and what is the faces of you, the negative space that competes for that attention? Taken a step farther, when do negative competing images of you overshadow you and put you into the background?
Negativity is like negative space. When I speak of negativity, I don’t mean dealing with a truly difficult real life situation such as an illness or personal loss. I think of negativity more as seeking drama. Scandalous news. Tragic events that one is unable to help. Ruminating over dark ideas. Gossip. Negativity can be addictive and grow to the point where that’s all of a person that is perceived. Do you see a person or their anger, their dwelling in the sadness of the world, their desire to dance with scandal? Do you see the person or the negativity?
A person balances on a fulcrum of figure-ground reversal. Negativity can become the center of attention while the person is overshadowed and goes into the background. The see-saw is yours to control.
What do you want others to perceive about you – the negative space around you or the whole person?
Where should our attention lie when we look at you? Which is the object and which is the negative space?
It’s all happening at once, the good and the bad, the sad and the joyful. Perspective causes the figure-ground reversal, the switch between half-empty and half-full.
And what do you perceive in the world – the object or the dark ground? Do you see vases or faces?