A Series of Limitations

I remember sitting outside the Percolator Art Space in Lawrence, Kan. one evening over 10 years ago, sipping a beer and chatting with a friend. My artist’s soul was chafing at the bounds of a “regular job.” I didn’t want to quit – it really was a great opportunity and the steady paycheck and health insurance gave me a sense of relief I hadn’t felt in a long time. My friend, also an artist who’d had a day job for 25 years responded with a line from “Me and Bobby McGee”: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” 

I pondered that response over the next few days and have returned to it again and again as I continue to add milestones to my life: career advancement, better pay, a husband, a son. Each one is the successful attainment of a dream! But the more I build a full life, the more limitations I put on that artistic within me. How to reconcile these two things? 

Photo by Orest Lenja from Pexels

Unsurprisingly, I am not the first person who has found the creative spirit bound by external restrictions. In fact, it turns out that Limitation Creativity is a thing. There are loads of studies that show working within certain limitations can actually make you more creative. Janis (with kudos to songwriters Fred L. Foster / Kris Kristofferson) put me in the right frame of mind. Several years later, Chuck Close gave me further perspective. On our honeymoon, my husband and I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Alongside some of Close’s monumental portraits, the curators included a quote: 

“I realized that to deal with your nature is also to construct a series of limitations which just don’t allow you to behave the way you most naturally want to behave. So, I found it incredibly liberating to work for a long time on something even though I’m impatient. It did not seem like such a dichotomy or a denial of who I was. It seemed like I was taking care of who I was.” – Chuck Close

He purposely imposed limitations on himself in order to push himself. “The choice not to do something is in a funny way more positive than the choice to do something,” Close told Cleveland.com back in 2009. “If you impose a limit to not do something you’ve done before, it will push you to where you’ve never gone before.”

I also came across Austen Kleon, another inspiring artist as I was researching this idea. Kleon describes himself as “a writer who draws.” One of his projects was Newspaper Blackout poetry. He would create a poem from an article in a newspaper, simply by blacking out all the words which didn’t fit his poem. Not only is he limited in the words and order he can use to create his poems, but he’s also inspired by the legal limitations in the copyright laws that he has to work within. “I’ve found that these legal constraints can actually be turned into artistic constraints,” he says on his website. “Rather than limiting my creativity, these constraints make the poems better.”

So how does this apply to my own life? I’m still trying to answer that question on a daily basis. But I have learned a few things. I found that as soon as I got married, I totally abandoned the methods I used to work through issues when I was single. I mean, wasn’t my husband supposed to fix all my problems? Apparently, that’s not how it works. Soon after we returned from our honeymoon, I suddenly understood what Meryl Brooks meant in “Two Weeks Notice” when she said, “I used to be afraid of being alone, then I got married. Now I’ll never be alone again….” Now I would always have to consider someone else in my plans. And then we decided to have a kid! But despite my occasional cynicism, my husband and my son are the fulfillment of dreams I’ve had for most of my life. Simultaneously, they are limitations on the artist’s soul within me. But I refuse to give that part of me up, so I continue to practice ways to be a wife and mother I am proud of, AND to carve out time for my inner wild spirit. 

This blog is a way to work within my limitations. My time is consumed by my job and my two-year-old. Both are important and can be very rewarding at times, but neither are exactly inspirational. So I made myself a strict schedule and have carved out as many hours as I can manage to be creative, discover new art and push myself to think about my everyday world through an artistic lens. It is a way to steep my soul in creativity. Pushing myself to sit down at my computer and write this post, even though I’m tired, invigorates me and gives me joy and inspiration for days. I have made time for creativity within the context of my chosen limitations. 

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