the blank space is – an art

In Chinese paintings, blankness is called the “breathing space”, left for imagination. Chinese values what is not said more than what is clearly stated. Thousands years ago, in a competition painters were asked to paint the scene in a poem. The poem described the spring time when flowers were flourishing. The road was covered with fragrant petals. A horse galloped by. Petals were stirred up and left floating in the air. Many painters painted the scene word by word. The winner painted a horse racing by, with its horseshoes surrounded by butterflies.

One modern art painting I’ve seen is just a white canvas. That’s the extreme case of blankness.

In music, a sudden pause unleashes the power.

In movies, what is not in picture forces the viewers to complete the story. The viewers’ curiosity is heightened and attention drawn. The movie 菊次郎の夏 made many of such pauses. It gave the movie a sense of real life’s pace, not rushed by the limit of the two hour cinema time. This movie is about how a nine-year old Japanese boy spent his summer with a almost stranger man. The boy lost his father when he was a baby. His mother moved far away. He lived with the grandma who had to work everyday. When the summer vocation came, all the normal activities such as after school soccer practice stopped. His friends went on vocation with their families. The boy suddenly felt the lack of his own. One day, after receiving a parcel from his mom, he packed up his summer homework, family photo, took his mom’s address off the parcel, and went off to see his mom – just to be stopped down the street by a group of teenagers trying to knock the little money off him. A neighborhood couple intervened. The wife sympathized and asked her clueless gangster-ish husband to take the kid to see his mom. Their journey started with the man spending a couple of days and all the travel money on betting bicycle race. (Doesn’t Japan have horses, greyhounds, rabbits?) His lack of responsibilities put himself and the kid in various unfavorable situations. When they finally reached the destination, they realized the mom was remarried and had a complete new family. At this time, the movie was only 2/3 done. It could go many different directions including your typical American ending ;-). However, it continued with the life pace without a hint of rush. The man and the boy ended up camping out with three guys they met on the road. An inspired poet who was traveling the country in a van. Two motor bikers who wear serious black but have heart as soft as mochi. The summer ended when everyone departed. At the end of scene, the boy and the man said goodbye on the bridge the first met. The boy asked, “Uncle, what’s your name?” After got his answer, he ran toward home and disappeared from the view. End. I almost did not want it to end here. I would like to know what would happen when they met again. The director must have resisted the tempt to add any more touch to his canvas.

In the documentary “Objectified”. It was said the best design is to take elements off the design, until every feature left is absolutely necessary. Editing the movie can be the similar process.

I wonder, what is the blank space in our lives? On Monday when we are asked by our colleagues how our weekend was. We were almost embarrassed to say it was just normal two days. Nothing exciting happened. Internet filled all the large chunks of our “inactive” time. And smart phone patched up the remaining small gaps. While these devices become more powerful, and the content distributed through them is forever growing, is it even possible to taking their influences off our minds, so we can have some blank space to develop the thought of our own?


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