Horror vacui means fear of empty spaces or fear of the empty.
The term is usually used in art, for example Victorian or Arab Islamic art. It is ornate and opulent but abundantly busy and cluttered!
The opposite of Horror vacui is minimalism, negative space, silence, emptiness and a vacuum.
The term has a strong psychological connotation for me. Its origin is “fear.” Fear is usually considered a “negative” emotion, a phobia, a condition that needs remedy.
Is Horror vacui truly a phobia, in need of a remedy? Let’s analyze and try to reach a deduction.
I interpret the term beyond the parameters of art. It can be applied to fashion, architecture, interior designs and most interestingly to human behavior. In fact, it is most intriguing when applied to humans as our emotions are a bundle of complexity worthy of a million interpretations.
We all have met people who speak incessantly. A ceaseless chatter, flitting from one mundane subject to another with nothing concrete to say. They talk as if their life depended on it. One has to be on a high-level of vigilance to grab an inhalation break in order to escape. It is an example of Horror vacui in speech-fear of silence.
Or people who have a compulsive need to be surrounded by other people all the time. Constant socializing, parties, get-togethers, vacations with friends, dinner with friends, coffee with friends, lunch with friends and the list goes on. They may describe themselves as being extremely sociable, but doesn’t it reek of Horror vacui-fear of being alone?
An addiction in any form-alcohol, drugs, food, sex is Horror vacui. An attempt to avoid facing the internal vacuum.
Fashion is a form of art and the principle of Horror vacui is relevantly applicable. I was recently at a Roberto Cavalli store. As I entered, I gasped and my jaw dropped. I felt my visual perception being assaulted by prints, patterns, colors, lines, shades in every shape and form. The minimalist in me felt suffocated and wanted to escape. The only visual escape was the white ceiling, except it too was covered with ornate patterns. An illustration of horror vacui in fashion.
What about women who imbibe the fashion mantra of more is more. True, we all have our own fashion sensibilities and fashion is a form of expression. So, who am I to sit in judgment. But really do we need all that adornment? Is it truly self-expression or is it confusion that is making a feeble attempt at expression? The bracelets, the rings, the necklaces, the danglers, the French nails. Help, I am horrified! It is Horror vacui, fear of toned down or minimal fashion.
Interior design is a form of art as well. I was recently told by an acquaintance that she wanted to buy a statue as there was only one corner in her house that was empty and needed to be filled. We engulf our homes with objects d’art, furniture, tapestries, carpets, rugs, pillows, candles. After sometime the aesthetic beauty becomes so diluted that it looks more like clutter. It is Horror vacui, fear of empty spaces.
For centuries, artists have been painting and drawing detailed, ornate and intricate work. The talent is evident, but an inordinate effort is made to cover every miniscule part of the canvas or the art medium. Wouldn’t it create a better contrast if the medium had a vacuum or blank space? Horror vacui again-fear of negative space.
So, to answer the question whether Horror vacui is a phobia in need of a remedy? My answer is that in most instances yes. It requires confidence to forego the fear of empty spaces whether related to emotions, fashion or art. Emptiness is beautiful, courageous and non-conforming!