Japanese Notan Art - Yin and Yang

Friday, April 22, 2022, 1:00 pm, 510F (110C), Sunny

Notan is a term that refers to the Japanese idea of balancing light and dark areas in a composition. One of the most familiar symbols of illustrating this concept is the circular Yin and Yang from the Ancient Chinese Taoist philosophical concept—the round image has interconnected teardrop-like shapes—one white and one black.  Notan is the idea that both light and dark elements have the exact same level of importance. They need each other to exist. You can’t have negative space without positive space and vice versa—two mutually defining opposites.


In yesterday’s bi-weekly art class at the Birmimgham Bloomfield Art Center we were given various ideas for our art project using the Notan art concept. I chose to make a face. I started with a black sheet of paper and used an Exacto knife to carve out the white areas, which I folded over. To illustrate this, for the heart shape, I cut out half of the heart and folded it onto the black sheet. Then I pasted the black sheet, with the folded sections, on white paper to give it the black and white effect.

To me, this could be the face of a person with Alzheimer’s. Just like Yin and Yang, it shows mutual duality between light and dark.
On any given day, I experience Sumi in two forms. Her calm, happy, and smiling self is the bright, or Yang, side of her. And the non-cooperative, anxious, and agitated self is the dark, or Yin, side of her. In various manifestations, these types of dualities exist in all of us. They are balancing forces rather than opposing. For me, understanding the inherent tension between forces, and the associated constraints, provides me with continuous adjustment, improvement, and creativity.