What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Started 4 months ago | Discussions
Peter Del Veteran Member • Posts: 5,687
Re: Reminiscing
1

"I like the cropped one much better."

As the artist who created the image, I disagree.

Peter Del

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kiwi2
kiwi2 Veteran Member • Posts: 4,753
Re: Reminiscing
1

Peter Del wrote:

"I like the cropped one much better."

As the artist who created the image, I disagree.

Me too. I think the original has a much bigger impact which is lost with the tighter crop.

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: Reminiscing

Peter Del wrote:

"I like the cropped one much better."

As the artist who created the image, I disagree.

Peter Del

You mean I don’t like the cropped one better? Not sure why this post.

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Goethe
Goethe Senior Member • Posts: 1,256
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

There are several responses of yours I could reply to here but I am picking this one simply due to a lack of available time to address things.

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

...What I'm advocating here is that negative space isn't a "thing".

Negative space is a thing. It is way past being accepted in the world and market of Art. Not being able to understand something should never allow you to doubt its existence, especially in the face of it being an established artistic idea/format/concept.

no lack of understanding of what people call it and how they use it. But like the highly accepted idea of rule of thirds, it obscures principles what people should be seeing or doing.

I'm glad you mentioned rule of thirds. Now that is a compositional tool. It is a simple, easy to comprehend shorthand rule to help new photographers understand the most basic aspects of what makes a good image. And like all rules such as itself it is expected to be broken by advanced practitioners.

Negative space is not a compositional rule. It is an artistic tool. Not sure why you dont seem to get that.

Look, here's the thing. A negative space photograph is one in which the negative space in an image is specifically created in such a way as to isolate or draw attention to the main subject. In this way, and in some disagreement with another poster, negative space can indeed almost become the subject itself. Because you are using the empty, the negative, to tell the narrative.

And yet another use of the term. Is this the compositional version of micro contrast?

Um, no. I starting to think the best example of negative space is this conversation.

You seem to be grappling with how such a thing is different from composition. As a shorthand version of this I simply recommend you think of negative space as a compositional tool. I mean, it isn't, but it's not going to hurt anyone if you want to think of it that way.

But understanding negative space and how it effects an image goes much, much deeper than that. Try contemplating the void, the empty spaces. Look not only at the shapes in your environment, but the spaces between them. Use these swaths of nothingness as a canvas to isolate a subject or an idea.

is it really that deep? Or is it more deep? I don’t see clarity coming from anyone yet.

Yes. It is deep. As deep as the artist using it can make it. It is a tool, a mindset, a storytelling device. When used by a skilled photographer it can help to create deep and moving imagery that stand out for their starkness. Yes, it is deep. As should be every input into this craft of ours. Well, mine at least.

If for whatever reason though some deeper insight is not revealed to you then just say its a compositional tool and call it a day.

I mean, it isn't that, but nobody else's photography will suffer for it.

No, it's a concept that helps you organise marks and shapes on a 2D surface with an understanding of how they will be interpreted.

Not sure what you mean here. Why would you not organize around a grid and the primary concepts of composition?

Rather, design techniques are and they are sometimes interpreted as "he's using negative space to do xyz"

Yet you still try and talk about it as a *thing*, he's not using negative space but organising shapes and tones with an understanding of how you will interpret what is the *object* and what is the *background*.

I think something is being missed when you put it that way. There has to be more going on or you can end up with mud.

when in reality, something else is going on. And then students think that negative space is a thing and they create a lot of schlock because they don't get what's really happening from a symmetry/design/story standpoint.

Negative space is an understanding that in 2D images your audience will make some base assumptions when they view. One of those assumptions is that we separate *subject* or *object* from the *background*. It's about how we organise elements in an image to form a logical understanding that's consistent with our memory. You can play with these ideas and your audience's assumptions as demonstrated in the link in this post here:

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/62913106

You're elevating negative space more than I would and I don't think it works that way.

A much more cogent argument is that you are devaluing negative space because you dont understand it.

Yea, nice dismissal. Aside from being condescending, you just made it clear you’re unable to really advance the idea clearly.

Again, your failure to understand what I have said is not me failing to advance the idea. I advanced the idea in both words and images.

I have absolutely no personal responsibility as to your artistic education. I also have no moral obligation to overcome your reticence concerning a more advanced artistic conception you seem extremely reluctant to believe. At this point you seem merely to be argumentative for the sake of being such.

I have provided visual examples of my art featuring this technique. Others here have as well. Many here have also provided detailed explanations of negative space and its application. If you dont get it, or you disagree with it, you are under no obligation to believe what was presented to you.

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OP Barry Twycross Senior Member • Posts: 1,553
Re: Samples:

lilBuddha wrote:

New Day Rising wrote:

Donald B wrote:

MediaArchivist wrote:

Over in the challenges section of this site, there is a challenge specifically for negative space. The entries can give you an idea of how other people think of it, and use it.

https://www.dpreview.com/challenges/Challenge.aspx?ID=13810

most have no idea what negative space is in that challenge.

Don

I have to agree. Many are just using space around the main subject, but then filling it with stuff. I went through all of them and 20-25% are what I would call negative space.

I just went through all of the submissions and if you think many or most don't use negative space, then I disagree with your definitions.

I think there are several that do not qualify at all and a couple that are subjective, but most use negative space.

This is why I asked the question. When does background become negative space. How much can be in negative space before it becomes background. As I said, their ideas are in a lot of cases not mine.

Does a blurred background qualify? How blurred?

Does a background with texture qualify? How textured?

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

There are several responses of yours I could reply to here but I am picking this one simply due to a lack of available time to address things.

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

...What I'm advocating here is that negative space isn't a "thing".

Negative space is a thing. It is way past being accepted in the world and market of Art. Not being able to understand something should never allow you to doubt its existence, especially in the face of it being an established artistic idea/format/concept.

no lack of understanding of what people call it and how they use it. But like the highly accepted idea of rule of thirds, it obscures principles what people should be seeing or doing.

I'm glad you mentioned rule of thirds. Now that is a compositional tool. It is a simple, easy to comprehend shorthand rule to help new photographers understand the most basic aspects of what makes a good image.

And exactly what is it that makes the rule of thirds work? Can you actually explain that?

And like all rules such as itself it is expected to be broken by advanced practitioners.

Negative space is not a compositional rule. It is an artistic tool. Not sure why you dont seem to get that.

Oh, so veiled derision now?

Look, here's the thing. A negative space photograph is one in which the negative space in an image is specifically created in such a way as to isolate or draw attention to the main subject. In this way, and in some disagreement with another poster, negative space can indeed almost become the subject itself. Because you are using the empty, the negative, to tell the narrative.

And yet another use of the term. Is this the compositional version of micro contrast?

Um, no. I starting to think the best example of negative space is this conversation.

Don't get so worked up about this. We were having a conversation and now you've descended into derisive speech. There's no need for that.

You seem to be grappling with how such a thing is different from composition. As a shorthand version of this I simply recommend you think of negative space as a compositional tool. I mean, it isn't, but it's not going to hurt anyone if you want to think of it that way.

But understanding negative space and how it effects an image goes much, much deeper than that. Try contemplating the void, the empty spaces. Look not only at the shapes in your environment, but the spaces between them. Use these swaths of nothingness as a canvas to isolate a subject or an idea.

is it really that deep? Or is it more deep? I don’t see clarity coming from anyone yet.

Yes. It is deep. As deep as the artist using it can make it. It is a tool, a mindset, a storytelling device. When used by a skilled photographer it can help to create deep and moving imagery that stand out for their starkness. Yes, it is deep. As should be every input into this craft of ours. Well, mine at least.

More veiled derision?

If for whatever reason though some deeper insight is not revealed to you then just say its a compositional tool and call it a day.

I mean, it isn't that, but nobody else's photography will suffer for it.

No, it's a concept that helps you organise marks and shapes on a 2D surface with an understanding of how they will be interpreted.

Not sure what you mean here. Why would you not organize around a grid and the primary concepts of composition?

Rather, design techniques are and they are sometimes interpreted as "he's using negative space to do xyz"

Yet you still try and talk about it as a *thing*, he's not using negative space but organising shapes and tones with an understanding of how you will interpret what is the *object* and what is the *background*.

I think something is being missed when you put it that way. There has to be more going on or you can end up with mud.

when in reality, something else is going on. And then students think that negative space is a thing and they create a lot of schlock because they don't get what's really happening from a symmetry/design/story standpoint.

Negative space is an understanding that in 2D images your audience will make some base assumptions when they view. One of those assumptions is that we separate *subject* or *object* from the *background*. It's about how we organise elements in an image to form a logical understanding that's consistent with our memory. You can play with these ideas and your audience's assumptions as demonstrated in the link in this post here:

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/62913106

You're elevating negative space more than I would and I don't think it works that way.

A much more cogent argument is that you are devaluing negative space because you dont understand it.

Yea, nice dismissal. Aside from being condescending, you just made it clear you’re unable to really advance the idea clearly.

Again, your failure to understand what I have said is not me failing to advance the idea. I advanced the idea in both words and images.

I have absolutely no personal responsibility as to your artistic education. I also have no moral obligation to overcome your reticence concerning a more advanced artistic conception you seem extremely reluctant to believe. At this point you seem merely to be argumentative for the sake of being such.

I have provided visual examples of my art featuring this technique. Others here have as well. Many here have also provided detailed explanations of negative space and its application. If you dont get it, or you disagree with it, you are under no obligation to believe what was presented to you.

I think you need to come back to this when you can be more civil. Not sure why this is upsetting, but I can assure you this is civil on my part.

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lilBuddha Veteran Member • Posts: 4,376
Re: ...

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

, they can be chaotic. That most are not is a function of basic design and not arabesque in itself.

Chaotic in what way? They are arabesques - curves that run through an image/painting that tie elements together and create a sense of movement.

They do not have to tie elements together. The basic definition is

No, they don't have to, but more often than not, they do. Because of what they are, our eyes naturally follow them.

Not because of what they are, but because good design uses technique. You are describin technique creating good design and that is not how it works.

Huh?

Arabesques don't lead the eye, good use of the technique does.

And to be fair, most of the muddy confusion I find about negative space comes from photographers who think they know something about composition as in rule of thirds. Rule of thirds isn't a thing either, but photographers grab onto it like it's life itself.

The rule of thirds is most definitely a thing. What it isn't is an absolute. Like any other compositional technique, it is a guide that is often, but not always, useful.

its dead and static. If/when people design to it, if they are successful, it is in spite of the rule of thirds. Decoding the masters should yield something very different.

The rule of thirds is not dead or static, some uses of it are.

*I'd not heard the term before. My art instructors were either more simple** or less pretentious as they merely called it the relationship between subject and background.

It is the relationship between foreground and background, at it's simplest. But I would say that the "ground" doesn't always have to be "back" ground although that is getting picky.

**They were professional fine artists, retired commercial artists and retired architects.

So it's pretentious to have a term for it? Is that condescending on purpose?

Not condescending, just accurate. There are terms in any given field that are essentially code for the in-crowd.

Oh, okay. But you apparently knew the “in” crowd, so what are you saying? I have a hard time not hearing a bit of cynicism here.

Cynicism ≠ condescension.

No, you just said that your teachers were simple or less pretentious and just simply called it relationship between subject and background.

Unfortunately, looking at all you've said, I'll pick simple. There's more to this but you have some ideas that are holding you back.

Cute. You missed the part where they were currently or formerly working professionals outside of teaching and inside practical professions. This tends to temper the pretensions that are very much part of the art world.

lilBuddha Veteran Member • Posts: 4,376
Re: Samples:
1

Barry Twycross wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

New Day Rising wrote:

Donald B wrote:

MediaArchivist wrote:

Over in the challenges section of this site, there is a challenge specifically for negative space. The entries can give you an idea of how other people think of it, and use it.

https://www.dpreview.com/challenges/Challenge.aspx?ID=13810

most have no idea what negative space is in that challenge.

Don

I have to agree. Many are just using space around the main subject, but then filling it with stuff. I went through all of them and 20-25% are what I would call negative space.

I just went through all of the submissions and if you think many or most don't use negative space, then I disagree with your definitions.

I think there are several that do not qualify at all and a couple that are subjective, but most use negative space.

This is why I asked the question. When does background become negative space.

Background can either be the part of the scene that was behind the subject in real life or the parts of the image that are not the subject. background becomes negative space when it is viewed as a whole, rather than its parts. Exactly when the happens is going to be a little subjective.

How much can be in negative space before it becomes background. As I said, their ideas are in a lot of cases not mine.

Does a blurred background qualify? How blurred?

Bluured, yes. How blurred is going to vary by case and viewer.

Does a background with texture qualify? How textured?

The negative space can be sharp and textured, but if it competes with the subject, it is not negative space. Simple examples are easy to illustrate. Complex examples need to be discussed on their own. It really is no different to mist concepts in art in this.

Just Tim 4
Just Tim 4 Contributing Member • Posts: 714
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

"Contemplate the void..."

Concentrate on the shape of the black rather than the shape of the chain and rope.

See how removing it changes your interpretation.

Your thinking appears to be far too literal in that you seem to be looking for a definition that describes what *negative space* is.

A label you can pin to it saying, "look, here it is!"

How do you draw a foreground and a background? You don't because in a 2D image everything is on the same plane, so what you do is create a relationship between two objects on the same plane that creates an illusion which your viewer interprets as visual depth, a figure/ground relationship. There are many ways to do this and they all involve an understanding of how we see and make sense of what we see.

How do you draw a background that enhances only the shape of the object you wish to be perceived as in front? What shape would it be?

Welcome to the concept/principle of negative space. As with all principles it describes a relationship between two areas and is not a description of one area. You need a positive for there to be a negative and you can define a positive space by drawing only a negative one. In fact by drawing the negative area you always define a positive one...

Peter Del Veteran Member • Posts: 5,687
Re: Reminiscing
1

You always want the last word, sad.

Peter Del

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VMorrissey
VMorrissey Forum Member • Posts: 50
For me it's this....

Negative space for me....or this,

stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: ...
1

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

, they can be chaotic. That most are not is a function of basic design and not arabesque in itself.

Chaotic in what way? They are arabesques - curves that run through an image/painting that tie elements together and create a sense of movement.

They do not have to tie elements together. The basic definition is

No, they don't have to, but more often than not, they do. Because of what they are, our eyes naturally follow them.

Not because of what they are, but because good design uses technique. You are describin technique creating good design and that is not how it works.

Huh?

Arabesques don't lead the eye, good use of the technique does.

And to be fair, most of the muddy confusion I find about negative space comes from photographers who think they know something about composition as in rule of thirds. Rule of thirds isn't a thing either, but photographers grab onto it like it's life itself.

The rule of thirds is most definitely a thing. What it isn't is an absolute. Like any other compositional technique, it is a guide that is often, but not always, useful.

its dead and static. If/when people design to it, if they are successful, it is in spite of the rule of thirds. Decoding the masters should yield something very different.

The rule of thirds is not dead or static, some uses of it are.

*I'd not heard the term before. My art instructors were either more simple** or less pretentious as they merely called it the relationship between subject and background.

It is the relationship between foreground and background, at it's simplest. But I would say that the "ground" doesn't always have to be "back" ground although that is getting picky.

**They were professional fine artists, retired commercial artists and retired architects.

So it's pretentious to have a term for it? Is that condescending on purpose?

Not condescending, just accurate. There are terms in any given field that are essentially code for the in-crowd.

Oh, okay. But you apparently knew the “in” crowd, so what are you saying? I have a hard time not hearing a bit of cynicism here.

Cynicism ≠ condescension.

No, you just said that your teachers were simple or less pretentious and just simply called it relationship between subject and background.

Unfortunately, looking at all you've said, I'll pick simple. There's more to this but you have some ideas that are holding you back.

Cute. You missed the part where they were currently or formerly working professionals outside of teaching and inside practical professions. This tends to temper the pretensions that are very much part of the art world.

I forgot to mention that my art education came from a paint by numbers course.

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Just Tim 4 wrote:

"Contemplate the void..."

Concentrate on the shape of the black rather than the shape of the chain and rope.

See how removing it changes your interpretation.

Your thinking appears to be far too literal in that you seem to be looking for a definition that describes what *negative space* is.

A label you can pin to it saying, "look, here it is!"

How do you draw a foreground and a background? You don't because in a 2D image everything is on the same plane, so what you do is create a relationship between two objects on the same plane that creates an illusion which your viewer interprets as visual depth, a figure/ground relationship. There are many ways to do this and they all involve an understanding of how we see and make sense of what we see.

How do you draw a background that enhances only the shape of the object you wish to be perceived as in front? What shape would it be?

Welcome to the concept/principle of negative space. As with all principles it describes a relationship between two areas and is not a description of one area. You need a positive for there to be a negative and you can define a positive space by drawing only a negative one. In fact by drawing the negative area you always define a positive one...

Certainly a thorough explanation. What I see you doing is reducing edge flicker which is a good idea except in this instance, I'm not sure there is anything to dislike about the middle one. But back to the definition - I would have expected you to say that negative space is low detail void given your use. IE, you're using negative space to reduce edge flicker.

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: Reminiscing

Peter Del wrote:

You always want the last word, sad.

Peter Del

No, it was a strange post. I've never seen someone assert their own opinion of a photo is more valid like that.

And I hadn't though of "last word". But since you bring it up, it was as if you were saying, "I'm the artist, I have the final say about what is best for my own images, therefore my opinion is more valid than yours."

I was going to let it go, but now that you feel the need to start being derisive, I'm wondering what you were originally up to. And what you're up to now.

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Just Tim 4
Just Tim 4 Contributing Member • Posts: 714
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

stevo23 wrote:

Certainly a thorough explanation. What I see you doing is reducing edge flicker which is a good idea except in this instance, I'm not sure there is anything to dislike about the middle one. But back to the definition - I would have expected you to say that negative space is low detail void given your use. IE, you're using negative space to reduce edge flicker.

Hmmm...

As I said a long while ago, in a galaxy far far away...

"This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding."

You have a set of pigeon-holes which you use to classify and categorise images. This rigid set of labels doesn't include one that allows you to label *negative space*. And yet you steadfastly refuse to create a new understanding. Instead you continually try to fit it within those same pigeon-holes that fail to give you an understanding.

Back to your definition, it fails...

*Spot* the difference.  

You have all the information you need from multiple posters, it's up to you.

SonyOB Contributing Member • Posts: 810
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

"Ceci n'est pas un espace vide".

(René Magritte)

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Certainly a thorough explanation. What I see you doing is reducing edge flicker which is a good idea except in this instance, I'm not sure there is anything to dislike about the middle one. But back to the definition - I would have expected you to say that negative space is low detail void given your use. IE, you're using negative space to reduce edge flicker.

Hmmm...

As I said a long while ago, in a galaxy far far away...

"This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding."

You have a set of pigeon-holes which you use to classify and categorise images. This rigid set of labels doesn't include one that allows you to label *negative space*. And yet you steadfastly refuse to create a new understanding. Instead you continually try to fit it within those same pigeon-holes that fail to give you an understanding.

Back to your definition, it fails...

*Spot* the difference.

You have all the information you need from multiple posters, it's up to you.

So you're saying I get to choose among all the various concepts? Did you understand my concept?

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lilBuddha Veteran Member • Posts: 4,376
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

stevo23 wrote:

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Certainly a thorough explanation. What I see you doing is reducing edge flicker which is a good idea except in this instance, I'm not sure there is anything to dislike about the middle one. But back to the definition - I would have expected you to say that negative space is low detail void given your use. IE, you're using negative space to reduce edge flicker.

Hmmm...

As I said a long while ago, in a galaxy far far away...

"This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding."

You have a set of pigeon-holes which you use to classify and categorise images. This rigid set of labels doesn't include one that allows you to label *negative space*. And yet you steadfastly refuse to create a new understanding. Instead you continually try to fit it within those same pigeon-holes that fail to give you an understanding.

Back to your definition, it fails...

*Spot* the difference.

You have all the information you need from multiple posters, it's up to you.

So you're saying I get to choose among all the various concepts? Did you understand my concept?

There are not various concepts. Just various degrees of understanding and application. Which is not the same thing.

stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,750
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Certainly a thorough explanation. What I see you doing is reducing edge flicker which is a good idea except in this instance, I'm not sure there is anything to dislike about the middle one. But back to the definition - I would have expected you to say that negative space is low detail void given your use. IE, you're using negative space to reduce edge flicker.

Hmmm...

As I said a long while ago, in a galaxy far far away...

"This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding."

You have a set of pigeon-holes which you use to classify and categorise images. This rigid set of labels doesn't include one that allows you to label *negative space*. And yet you steadfastly refuse to create a new understanding. Instead you continually try to fit it within those same pigeon-holes that fail to give you an understanding.

Back to your definition, it fails...

*Spot* the difference.

You have all the information you need from multiple posters, it's up to you.

So you're saying I get to choose among all the various concepts? Did you understand my concept?

There are not various concepts. Just various degrees of understanding and application. Which is not the same thing.

No, I'm seeing different concepts. Especially yours.

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Peter Del Veteran Member • Posts: 5,687
Re: Reminiscing
1

If you haven't understood, then there is nothing I can do for you.

Peter Del

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