Fruitful Constraints in creativity & the wall of “I don’t know this”

I wrote an article about Fruitful Constraints & Creativity in 2017. Here it is :

It’s an old tool many artists know : many constraints are fruitful. Mainly because a constraint is a problem calling for a solution, therefore you have to move, to be creative.

All jobs and activities have constraints : budget, environment, other people, time, space, your skills, your tools.

If it’s too loose, though, you feel a freedom, which can be messy. You can not catch anything. Stuck. You maybe need to tight something up, to find “your” freedom within a new frame.

Brian Eno invented the Oblique Strategies (mainly for musicians) as a card game. You pick a card and you have to obey (sometimes it’s terrible!). Some directors are well known to tell the actors to follow precisely something (the dialogs, or the places they have to move on the set, etc) before shooting. Some digital artists sometimes go out in a park with a pencil and a notebook. A photographer can go outside with the limit of 20 pictures taken, not much. And G. Perec wrote an entire book without the letter “e”.

Constraints are fruitful. You probably have many disposable levers for these. A poet can obey : write something in alexandrine; without any letter “p”, in less than 5 minutes. You may have to present a project in ONE minute only, and… with no words. What are your levers?

You can pull a lever to Zero, it’s the Total Constraint. For example, you’re a photographer and you go out without any camera. Just your eye. You’ll feel the need, you’ll feel your brain simmering. As you can only watch and… think, you’ll maybe have bursts of ideas (instead of taking pictures). Take notes!

Of course it’s an example of “Amor Fati”, being content with what happens to you, even if it seems bad. Embracing fate : every constraint, if you can’t avoid it, should (and will have to) be danced with.

 

Today I’d like to extend this. If “constraints in Arts” is a well known concept, what about life, or culture?

Obviously, it’s linked to the idea of “Comfort Zone”. Let’s take movies, or music…

If one listens to the music they love, good to them. But how do we discover other musics, in fields we’re not used to dig? We have to think, make efforts, find a way and a place, informations. Then we begin, and our brain is surrounded with constraints : we don’t necessarily feel pleasure, there are things we don’t get, and our lazy head pushes us to stop.

It’s the same for painters we don’t like, movies we usually avoid, etc.

Out of our comfort zone, we have to make efforts, we must use an amount of curiosity, we must find or draw maps. In fact, we build, we extend, we grow.

The wall of “I don’t know this” can be an obstacle. Do we skip over, making efforts and feeling the fecund constraints of the undiscovered, or do we go back to the mellowness of what we already love?

Is the real new fruitful for us? How?

If exploring is sometimes unpleasant, is it worthy to fight the unpleasantness (OK : displeasure) and why? You have to invent new tools to think? You could find pearls and emeralds and gold?

What haven’t I explored until now?

 

Thanks for reading!

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Trent Parke

2 thoughts on “Fruitful Constraints in creativity & the wall of “I don’t know this”

  1. Nick Gall April 27, 2020 / 7:34 pm

    Great posts (your original and this follow up). I found your blog post when searching “fruitful constraints”. I’m surprised the term isn’t more popular.

    In answer to your question, ‘If “constraints in Arts” is a well-known concept, what about life, or culture?’, the concept is well known in several disciplines. One of the most common labels for it is “enabling constraints”, which is too bad, because I think “fruitful constraints” is much more evocative. If you google the term you’ll find lots of discussion about the concept. Here’s a link to a video by Alicia Juarrero on ‘enabling constraints’, a term she (may have) coined and certainly popularized: https://vimeo.com/128934608 .

    Liked by 1 person

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