Saturday, March 24, 2012
Limitations Fuel Creativity
A nebulous issue that I've been pondering of late is freedom in self expression. Paging through one of my old journals recently I came across some notes on creativity attributed to Sister Corita Kent and Jan Steward from their book, Learning by Heart: Teaching to Free the Creative Spirit. They seem to be saying that limitations spur artistic growth. They say working with the inherent limitations of real things allows the artist to define goals, clarify artistic procedures and express the essence of his/her subject. I think this is exactly the activity of creativity. In the process of art-making a weaving together of the real and the abstract unfolds. A vague amorphous idea like creativity can't be articulated clearly, but it can be demonstrated in the process of making things.
Kent and Steward describe two very different approaches to art-making. Artist A says she feels creative so she will paint clouds. Artist B says she's really turned on by clouds. Clouds are fascinating and she wants to explore them further. Artist A is focused on the label, creative, a formless abstract theory. Artist B focuses on the clouds, real things, and her inquisitive process itself is creativity. Kent and Steward's explanation is much more thorough and informative than my attempt to paraphrase so I urge you to read their account. Their approach is an effective way to work with imagined personal short-comings that we tend to perceive as obstacles. Kent and Stewart seem to use limitations as a supportive platform, a springboard for self expression. It's very much like meditation wherein everything we encounter becomes a tool to uncover our true nature. I think their focus on real things for artistic inspiration and hence a supportive structure, can be helpful in clearing the mind fog of habitual neurotic thinking, and open us up to fresh new ways of seeing.
Making things requires continual study, exploration and practice. You can by-pass all of that, throw a little paint around and wrap yourself in creativity theories. But isn't that an illusion? Art-making is not just frivolous scribbling or throwing of paint in emotional spasms of naval gazing. Even abstract expressionism, the action paintings of Jackson Pollock are held together by elements of composition that emerged from the movements of his own physical body. Rooted in the limitations of the tangible world, art-making can flourish because the limitations themselves are the fuel of creativity.