The case for absence

by Starla J. King on January 19, 2012

Doug Gates' infinity environment

Doug Gates' installation DW 68 VEN MCASD 11 (1968-2011) in San Diego

“You know it’s really hard to do that kind of piece, don’t you? It’s very hard to create absence,” says Doug Wheeler, Light and Space artist, about his “infinity environment” (shown at left).

When I discovered Wheeler’s work last weekend — thanks to this NY Times article — I was blown away.

Here is a man who is so dedicated to the concept of creating absence that he actually DID it… he CREATED absence (or at least the experience of it).  Put something in place that by its very definition requires it to not be there.

Created “…a light-saturated, all white, rounded room with no corners or sharp angles, rendering viewers unable to fix their eyes on any surface.

Mind bending, isn’t it?

Apparently almost literally so:

… a small boy walked up to the [infinity environment] room and hesitated before entering, putting his hands in front of him because his senses told him that the square entrance was a wall, not simply a wall of light flooding his vision.

But I digress.  (It’s so easy to get deliciously lured away by art…)

My point here is that although it’s really quite difficult to create absence, it can be done.  And I might add, it NEEDS to be done. For our creative health, our relationship health, our spiritual health, our emotional health ,we MUST create absence in our lives.

The absence of thought or noise or obligation or mind-chatter is what provides the space for feeling, quiet, inspiration, and rest.

Incidentally, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I kid you not with that name!), in his book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, goes so far as to say that the second phase of creativity (the first being a period of preparation) is a period of incubation.  An absence of tangibly visible creative production.  An “empty space in between sensing a problem and intuiting its solution,”  “an indispensible stage,” “the most creative part of the entire process.

We must create absence in order to create.

Physicist Freeman Dyson (yes, physicists are highly creative people) says,

“I am fooling around not doing anything, which probably means that this is a creative period, although of course you don’t know until afterward.  I think that it is very important to be idle…  people who keep themselves busy all of the time are generally not creative.  So I am not ashamed of being idle.”

Oh yeah.

Create your absence. Today. 10 minutes. On your calendar.

Create                                your                                    space.

And watch what shows up.


To learn more (and do more) about the creative process, take my eCourse: “Court Your Muse: A Practical Approach to Creative Progress.”

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