Boundaries. Limits.

Among some recent research on creativity issues and exercises, the idea of placing boundaries and limits is suggested as one way to help move you into a creative vein. Limit your time, your material, your size of project, whatever. It is suggested that having everything too wide open can actually stifle creativity: where to start and what to do?!?!?

The problem I have with thinking in terms of boundaries and limits is that I usually associate a negative connotation to them. They bring to mind blocking and barriers, the extent to which something can be done – beyond which is usually a dire consequence. The barbed wire fence around the pasture which we were not supposed to cross for fear of the bull on the other side.

Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus gives the following as synonyms to boundary: beginning; compass; fringe; frontier. I like these terms much better – so much more positive in nature.

Surely the beginning of something is the nearest ‘boundary’ and the farther and farthest limits can be considered the fringe and frontier to be reached.

If I think in terms of my creative process and the work that comes from it, and place a limit on it in some fashion – e.g. use only the color orange – that gives me a starting point, a beginning without really defining the end boundary. I can go beyond orange into the whole range of tints and values and shades and textures, etc. By limiting access to the rest my box of crayons, I can concentrate on shape and size and sizzle.

Having a boundary actually gives me a compass for my work. It defines my starting point and steers me in a direction that may or may not be similar to what I’ve done before. The end result is not a foregone conclusion; I may actually make it to that frontier or veer off to a fringe area.

The best part about having a boundary or limit, is the ‘going beyond’ the limits, the breaking out of the box that we all try to do that gives our work a distinctive look and feel. The thought that gives the spark to try something different, out of the ordinary, unplanned or unusual. Those ‘a ha!’ moments when it all comes together and feels right.

I usually wind up pushing limits when I find myself asking “what if…” in the middle of something, knowing full well that I’ll never be able to try all the possibilities I come up with. But the what ifs, the compass directions, often don’t come until I’ve already got something started.

I’ve been putzing around for several weeks now, not really getting anything accomplished in my artwork. Guess I better set some limits!

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