empty canvas : wondering mind | book six

creative constraints


1  the power of limits
2  scaffolds and structures
3  shape : geometry
4  form : function
5  line : words
6  light : color
7  references


(pdf 885 KB)

It is in working within limits that the craftsman reveals himself.
– Goethe

Excerpt from the power of limits

In a series of books that goes on at such length about the crucial role of play, it might seem strange to include one called creative constraints. It might seem academic.  It might seem constricting. Constricting and constraining aren’t the same however, and one of the great fallacies about creativity is that it must ‘happen’ out of nothing and nowhere.

The truth is that nothing happens out of nothing and nowhere. Creative things happen when our ideas about what ‘should’ happen, based on what we have been trained to expect, relax and allow the unexpected and the uninvited to play with us. But just because what happens appears to arise out of the blue it doesn’t mean that it comes from nowhere. Is there any such place as nowhere in the universe? Is there any such thing as nothing? Nothing is still something – and it turns out to be the most fertile thing in creation.

The power of limits, of constraints, is another open secret that lies on the other side of our ideas about creativity. Constraints power our play and save us from drowning in the infinite ocean of possibilities. A constraint is like a frequency band on a radio receiver – tuning into that airwave, and playing with what flows forth for us there, gives us firm ground to stand on and a playground limited only by our choices. If you protest that such a notion seems to limit creativity I invite you to step out of your concept and experience this for yourself. Playing within limits opens the door to the limitless and artists spend their lives doing just this.

Do we ever have all the colors in our paint-box that we think we need? Do we ever have all the technical knowledge we need? Do we ever have enough time? No. We have what we have, and we play with that. We start out from where we stand as if we had it all and knew everything we need to know. And like a flower, we unfold our making as we go along, taking step after step in the dark. This is what it means to live at the creative edge. […]

– miriam louisa simons

The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.
– Orson Welles

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