Creating With Limitations

All artists know that creating with limitations is important. We paint on a canvas — this gives edges, a sense of size and proportion, perhaps it dictates tools. A dance involves your body and perhaps props, a stage, other dancers, and everyone’s combined skills.

A song made for radio should be about 3 minutes long, have a hook, and be well-recorded. A song with a different frame might ask for a symphony, for 10-minutes of a looped rhythm track, nothing but a single voice. There are jazz chords and power chords, digital tools and traditional crafts, poetic meter and free verse. These traditions exist to shape a form, to form genre, to hold together the work of many artists within the larger vessel of community.

Of course, the creative nature of art making means that anything is possible. We are past the eras when tradition meant more than individuality. We can create in or outside of a gallery, perform on stage or in a living room, dance on street corners or in stores and still be seen by millions of people on video apps. Or, we can share not at all, creating just for ourselves. Anything is possible.

Still, I find a great freedom in limits. Anything is endless. If I want my creations to have a point, to be seen and understood, than I must know what has existed before. I must learn the basics of the form I am working with. And knowing this, I learn more about my tools, I can sharpen my skills, I have a basic outer-edge that I can either explore and push at or exist comfortably within 

Limitations are a frame, not a box. They are an open and well-lit stage, not hidden marionette strings. Let limitations be healing, but not a prescription. Don’t let them control you — let them free you.

Find your limits today. Find your edges and secure them. Over time, tear them down, create new ones. But first, learn, at least roughly, where they are.

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