I’m now officially back in school for the winter 2014 term. I have had my first class in a couple of my courses, and I haven’t been this excited for school in quite some time. Not only are the professors some of my favourites, but the courses going to be more exploratory than rote memorization. In my class on the Psalms, for instance, one of my projects is to do something artistic (or write a paper on something artistic) that relates to one or more of the Psalms! So cool!
However, after taking a couple hours to think about this project, I became overwhelmed by the vast array of options available. Do I write and perform a drama piece? Do I write something bigger and get other people involved? Do I do a photography set? Do I write a paper comparing the Psalms to video game? The options continued to flow, each one just as exciting as the others.
This brings me to my topic for today: the problem with too little structure in the creative process.
As artists, we tend to like to push the boundaries a little. We like to see what happens when people are made to be uncomfortable. We like to see exactly what lies on the other side of the line we are told not to cross. We like to have room to be creative!
However, this is a situation where more is not better. Some space to play is great! A lot of space to play ruins the game. Without lines to cross, we can lose interest, or become overwhelmed by the options laid before us. I love the raw creative potential of sandboxes, but the beach is less exciting.
I’ve read before that structure and limits breed creativity. They focus our creative powers so that they are all aimed in one direction. They stop our boundless energy from going in all directions, and allow us to spend this energy solving whatever problem we are faced with.
This is why I have never really liked sandbox video games. They offer a boatload of options, but very little direction. You can spend a day exploring, or talking to people, or fighting bad guys, or whatever you want. But purpose seems to be lost. I would rather have a compelling story that I am brought into over having all the options that the real world offers.
So, what does this mean for us artists? I think they may be times when we need to apply limitations to our own work. We need to be “the man” who holds us back from unleashing our entire creative prowess. Maybe the limits we impose are completely arbitrary: the two characters in this play can never leave the stage; I can only use two colours in this painting of the city; I will write this poem in iambic pentameter despite it having nothing to do with Elizabethan poetry. See what happens when you cut yourself off from your normal process.
When we do this, when we divert our efforts from our normal artistic engagement, we are forced to explore and learn new paths, and true creativity can be released. Trust yourself in this. You are an artist for a reason. We can become great artists by pushing ourselves within the boundaries of our art, whether they are imposed on us by others or by ourselves.
What kind of fences can you put in the way of your art this week? Let us know. Maybe others can find just the limiting inspiration that they need to create their next masterpiece.