Embracing Creative Constraints

Most creative people cringe when they hear the word “constraint.” They think of constraints as something that hinders creativity. They find constraints restrictive, and limiting.

Constraints, however, are actually essential for creativity. In fact, it would be impossible to create anything without constraints.

The opposite of constraint is chaos: formlessness, randomness, without reason or cause.

To create something means to cause something to come into existence. To give something form, shape, parameters, and attributes. Those are all constraints. Chaos, then, is the opposite of creativity.

The term creative chaos is an oxymoron because chaos means that you had no participation in the creation of anything. Chaos just means something exists with or without you.

All creative endeavors deal with constraints such as time, money, and constraints. Many creative projects, however, do not require a great deal of money, nor that many resources. So time is the only real constraint.

Many of us are under the illusion that you have to be an artist in order to be creative. Everything we do – whether it be cleaning our homes, or making a meal – requires creative thinking. Therefor, we always have opportunities to be creative.

Creativity is as essential to well being as eating well, and exercising, yet very few of us make time for it. Yet we make time for mindless television, and idle tweeting.

Another constraint is the medium or project itself. If you’re hired to make an oil painting, you’re finished product should not be a statue. If you’re hired to make a website, you’re finished project should not be a dress. A painter deals with paint. A fashion designer deals with clothe. A mixed media artists is essentially dealing with canvas and paint. A multimedia artists is essentially dealing with performance art, videography, and photography. The medium is the constraint.

Some of great art has been produced using simple constraints. Jackson Pollack pioneered a type of painting where the brush never touches the canvas. Bob Ross created masterpieces on television in real time in only 30 minutes without sketches or a photographic reference. Nathan Sagawa builds sculptures using only Lego blocks. Morimoto culinary masterpieces out of food.

The final constraint: ourselves. We all carry with us our experiences, hopes, and dreams. We carry with us our ideas of what is beautiful, and what is ugly. We bring our anxieties, insecurities, and fears to every project we touch. We are the ultimate constraint because in the end we carry with us our own perceptions and beliefs of what is possible and what is impossible. And this constraint is inescapable.

Rather than fighting constraints, and viewing them as a hinderance, use constraints as tools to guide your creativity. Rather than viewing constraints as limitations, use them as bring boards to get an idea off the ground. Rather than running away from constraints, use them to your advantage. It’s not like you can escape constraints anyway.

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