Go Negative This Advent

It’s Advent, kids. Time to go negative.

Yep, negative.

Let me offer a defense.

fedex01x

Lindon Leader’s design for Federal Express is considered one of the most creative logos ever designed. It’s famous not for what’s there, but for what isn’t. The design effectively uses the negative space, or empty space, between the “E” and the “X” to form a hidden right-pointing arrow.

Like this.

fedex02x

See it?

It’s rather obvious but given our eyes tend to focus on positive spaces, hidden shapes within negative spaces often go unnoticed. I can’t recall the first time I discovered the arrow, but now that I know it’s there, I can’t go back. The arrow is all I see.

Negative space.

I recently read an interview with Lindon, the logo’s designer, and he made the point that there’s always a temptation and tendency to go overboard and start adding and complicating matters.

“People aren’t good at restraint,” he says. “They don’t get that not adding is really a form of subtracting. All of a sudden there was this rush to tell the world the secret. Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think? FedEx’s PR firm immediately wanted to supersize it. They wanted to make it obvious, fill it in with another color. They wanted to feature the arrow in other brand communications. They didn’t get it. It wasn’t about the arrow. An arrow isn’t even interesting to look at. It’s only because of the subtlety that it’s intriguing. And not seeing the arrow doesn’t in any way detract from the power of the mark. The arrow’s just an added, novel bonus.”

In other words, not all negative space is meant to be filled.

In music, we recognize negative space as silence. When musicians remove noise and strategically incorporate silence into their compositions, they also add emphasis and lend definition to their work of art. Can you imagine an arrangement of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence performed by an ensemble of four vocalists, a horn section, three guitars, bass, congas, and drums? No, because that stands in direct contrast to the song’s very message — standing in awe and meditating on the fact that God has come to earth and become man.  

Such an ensemble is not appropriate for Advent either, a time when we remember and reflect that Christ came to us as a baby in the silence of the night. No fanfare, no trumpet blasts, no procession. Small, meek, humble in the dark and quiet of a small town. What sense does it make to prepare to re-experience this event by filling our lives with noise, stuff, and more noise? That stands in direct contrast to this season’s very purpose.

Let’s allow this Advent to be memorable not for how we try to supersize it, but for how we don’t. Seek negative space. Don’t feel guilty for occasionally saying no. Savor the silence. Declutter your heart. Make room to receive Jesus when He comes.

“We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activity, sound; often there is not even time to listen and dialogue … Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.” — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

So, I raise the question, how will you go negative this Advent?

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