Yohaku

brush and ink

Yohaku is the concept of white space. I first heard this term at a library conference in 2006. Legendary author E. L. Konigsburg, who wrote From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, gave a speech about appreciating both the half empty and half full glass.  She read us her elegant, intellectual speech and all eyes were on her.  It is a reminder that it is okay to prepare your words ahead of time and still be heard from the heart.

So what was she trying to tell us that was so important?  First of all, we need both the positive and the negative.  Everything has a duality.  You can call it masculine and feminine, black and white, yin and yang, north and south pole, good and evil, but it is all the same.  We exist because of it and we can transcend whatever side of the pole we find ourselves on in any given aspect of our lives in any moment.

She pointed out that only in our society would we refer to this beautiful white space as “negative” space.  Why?  We seem to have a need to fill up every corner of every painting, every closet, every space in our lives with stuff.  If we don’t, it is seen as a negative.  But how does black exist fully without the white space behind it, between it, around it, pushing it forward?  The reverse, of course, is also true, but we usually start with a white piece of paper.  And doesn’t that scare us to death?

When I asked my husband, who is Japanese, about the term “yohaku,” he immediately referred to the term as white space.  When I called it “negative” space, he said, “Oh no, it isn’t negative.  It’s a positive thing.”  I had to explain where the negative reference came from.

So how does this relate to my latest sumi-e painting?  It is my first attempt at something abstract with ink.  It is supposed to represent the concept of the “black hole.”  A little research taught me that black holes exist throughout the universe and balance the stars (light) that exists.  Black holes suck up matter (including light), which is a scary thought.  But they also spit out particles that make up all living things, including us.  We in essence would not exist without them.  The earth may in fact be a byproduct of one of them.

Looking at the painting, where is your eye drawn?  To the black in the center or the white throughout?  Could either exist fully without the other?  Which is more important?  More beautiful?

Konigsburg told us she gave herself time to write even as a young mother.  She found the space for her words.  We must find the space for ours.

My secondhand childhood copy signed and dated by the author 🙂

Check out these other posts that highlight yohaku as well as the concept of creative space:

The Four Noble Ones

Letting Go

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. angelajkidd
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 18:27:30

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Notan: Harmonizing Darks and Lights | Artwork and Musings by Angie Kidd

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