Horror Vacui; Quite Relevant Still

Ever sit in your room wanting to meditate or just clear your head of everything that happened during the day? It’s likely that you have. At the moment you find yourself at the precipice of emptying your head and you begin looking into a chasm of wonderful emptiness, and instead of diving in, you recede back to the everyday, and then you find solace in the chaos that you had been trying to cleanse yourself of moments before. What has happened here is something that Aristotle calls horror vacui, which is the idea that nature abhors a vacuum. Many scholars after Aristotle attribute it to ornate or gaudy pieces of art, and still later people attribute the term to art that’s created by the mentally unstable (which I find somewhat telling).

Here’s an example of horror vacuii as presented by self-taught artist Adolf Wölfli, titled “General View of the Island Neveranger.”
To the common person the notion of horror vacui can be seen as one fills one’s life to its fullest, being occupied and pacified at all times, which seems to be quite a good or bad thing depending on one’s own point of view, but the flip side is the fear one feels when creating or finding empty spaces in one’s life. That’s when the notion of horror vacui becomes more resonant. The mind constantly wants to do its so called work, to create structures, to contemplate the unknown or unknowable, and to construct challenges and scenarios not yet realized. The mind sees these actions as its higher duty, and when it does not have these tasks to perform it becomes despondent and bored, not allowing one to completely “clear” it. But think about the payoff of completely clearing ones mind, of productive meditation. Is this something to abhor, to fear? Shedding ones ratio-centric mind to create an empty mind, obviously, has been explored and expounded upon. Why fear the empty, the nothing, the vacuum? It has the potential to provide us with a contrast to the non-vacuum sludge we wade through every day.

This entry was posted in Art, Commentary, Essay, Fear, Pop Culture Issues.

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