Back in the 1960s, painter Robert Ryman got famous for painting nothing but large white abstract squares.
Just white paint on white canvas. Completely minimalist, with no regular imagery.
To the untrained eye, it all seems like a bit of a con. White on white – what’s so special about that? My five-year-old could paint better than that.
An original Ryman white painting sells for millions of dollars. More than that, his paintings really are quite beautiful.
Typical Robert Ryman, 6 x 6, Credit: Artnet.com
Why? Because as John Cleese once said, “Creativity needs both time and space to flourish.”And these white paintings, seem to have plenty of both. Somehow, they’re very serene in their simplicity.
And as a result, very expensive. These are not poor man’s art.
The truth is, “White Space” is expensive in all its forms. It seems, we can rarely afford it, and when we can, it’s almost always too fleeting.
Have you ever had a moment where you’re really trying to come up with a solution to a problem at work, but you simply can’t because you’re too busy running around trying to put out fires or tick off the many tasks that keep landing on your desk? That’s your job lacking the “White Space” to think properly.
And of course, not being able to think properly makes it very hard to innovate. To do anything, really.
As our advisor, General E. John Teichert (ret), likes to say, one of the most important jobs as a leader is to give yourself white space to think (and to think differently), regularly challenging your assumptions.
The value of white space is what creeps in, in the absence of content. It invites curiosity. Interpretation. And suddenly you’re able to rest your eye on the elements that are most important, making them stand out more.
It creates room for what really matters.
In today’s reactive world, it’s safe to say that few of us have enough of it. Yet, it’s essential to our well-being and to our success.
When you find it, hang onto it for dear life. And when you don’t, find ways to create more of it. White Space is one of the great privileges of being alive.