Opportunity Cost

I often go to an exhibition only to end up being far more impressed by the gallery than by the exhibition itself. There are very few works of art that can improve on the empty gallery. That perfectly empty space in the city, with its audacious dimensions. Sometimes a gallery has sufficient space and surplus whiteness so as to endow any art piece with an urgent grandeur. This was the case with the original Saatchi Gallery in London, for instance. But at other times, I have felt that some artist’s heavyhanded efforts are ruining my enjoyment of a sublimely plastered wall.

All good music begins with a profound respect for silence; and all good writing begins with a profound respect for the blank page. 1 If you could not appreciate the crisp, translucent splendour of a piece of paper, how were you to be trusted to blacken it with ink? A beautiful empty page is the opportunity cost of all writing.

And things are not getting any cheaper. Our electronic texts are now held together, displayed and transmitted by layer upon layer of code. There must be many electronic books, novels even, whose text contains far less poetry than the terse, dynamic, code that holds them together.

Which is not to say that all code is necessarily beautiful. Code is written on top of other code, often terser and more beautiful. 2


  1. 1There is a tendency in art and literature to treat code as superficially beautiful, and to use it as an opaque sign, like Japanese. To use it only for its sciencey lustre.