The Audience Learns Part 1 — Space

"Don't speak unless your words are more beautiful than the silence."

This Arabic proverb contains an important lesson for creators.  We might valorize silence, and not only for its beauty.  An audience requires space in order to consider and process an artist's work.   

Sitting on the beach and looking out across the horizon, or sitting in large and otherwise unoccupied space such as an empty church or concert hall—such environments invite reflection precisely because they offer the sense that our thoughts have some space in which to work.  Though the trail through a forest may be narrow and confining, the hiker’s sense of the forest’s vast dimensions explain why this is another likely place to go think things over.  It's as if our thoughts actually require physical space in which they can be unpacked and turned over. 

The aesthetic appeal of space may be more immediately grasped than the cognitive role that space plays in learning.  That so many pop songs start with a guitar riff and then build up into full instrumentation (a move found in countless orchestral works) reflects more than a concern with drama.  It reveals an appreciation for the value of space—in the case of music, aural space.  The listener makes use of the space around a riff or sparely presented melodic motif to examine it.  The greater the space, the more extensive the listener’s examination.

These landscapes by French Baroque painter Claude Lorrain are filled with detail, but note how important the sense of space is. 

 Claude Lorraine, "Embarkation of the Queen of Sheeba"(1648).  Image via  wikipedia.org .

Claude Lorraine, "Embarkation of the Queen of Sheeba"(1648).  Image via wikipedia.org.

 Claude Lorrain, "Landscape with Apollo Guarding the Herds of Admetus and Mercury Stealing Them," (1645).  Image via  wikipedia.org .

Claude Lorrain, "Landscape with Apollo Guarding the Herds of Admetus and Mercury Stealing Them," (1645).  Image via wikipedia.org.

A viewer has the sense that she can take in the details and also step back from them, turn them over.  Indeed, that space is invaluable to her learning and creative work as a viewer.  So it is for audiences of all creative forms.


Thank you for reading.