The Value of Empty Space

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Often in advertising, let’s say in a print or outdoor ad, we are tempted to fill the space with as much as language as possible, to explain everything. There is a recent “manifesto” outdoor ad from Covenant House that passionately articulates the mission of the organization, and if you bother to stand there and read the very long copy, you will certainly get something out of it. The problem is, as I stood in line for the ferry at Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and watched my fellow travelers, no one stopped to read the ad. And even when I read it, I felt it did all the work for me, and left nothing unsaid, nothing for me to figure out.

Empty space in a painting, which is called ‘negative space’, is essential for creating form. Empty space – as in the unspoken – in an ad is just as important. What is left unsaid, what is suggested, or implied, can be more powerful than the explicit, prosaic explanation.

Case in point:  Better to read the above passage from the Tao than my explanation. You will gain much more from its beautiful concision.