There’s a lot that can be said about what’s not said. And that’s not just true in terms of speaking. The move toward abstraction in 20th century painting started with the simplification of forms and shapes. If you’ve ever taken a drawing class you probably started by breaking something down into triangles, circles, and squares before adding details. The artistic simplification of forms continued until it finally arrived at “pure abstraction”, with paintings that weren’t meant to represent anything specific but were meant to be evocative, although this wasn’t really a new idea. Abstract or non-representational art can be found throughout history. And not all artists went to pure abstraction either. Dorothea Tanning’s paintings, and then sculptures, became increasingly abstract but were always meant to evoke the female form, and Edward Hopper’s late paintings, although they’re of rooms, are studies in light, color, and form. There’s also just the nature of the edge of the painting, the frame. In a way every painting isn’t just about its subject but also what it doesn’t include, all the things that it doesn’t show, and just try and wrap your head around that.
There’s also what’s not said in literature, and not just what authors deliberately leave out. There are lacunae in ancient texts from the epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Aristotle and Plato and others, not to mention lost plays of Sophocles and other classical writers.
And as any writer will tell you there’s always the question of what to say and what not to say when telling a story because, like a painting, a story can’t contain everything, and sometimes what’s not said can say a lot; it can give the reader a chance to fill in what’s missing and draw their own conclusions. Sometimes too what’s not said is just a matter of economy. In a college class I read a short story by Bobbie Ann Mason that included a line about someone squeezing Joy into a sink full of dishes. There was a footnote that said “Commercial brand of dishwashing liquid” and I think almost the whole class that day was taken up with a discussion of how much a writer needs to tell the reader and how much can be understood just from context. The teacher finally summed it up by saying, “A writer should assume the reader is ignorant but not stupid,” which is a fine idea, but knowing what the reader can be trusted to fill in by themselves and what they need to be told is tricky.
So anyway it’s obvious that there’s a lot that can be said about what’s not said, what’s unsaid, what’s missing, what’s left out–in fact there’s so much that can be said about it you probably wish I’d shut up.