Freedom with Constraints

Restrictions.  Constrictions.  And boxes.

Generally, but especially in the arts, these are abhorred, feared even, and avoided at all cost.  They are the enemy of freedom and of creativity; they're for the ignorant, the close-minded.  Not the artist. As Henry David Thoreau stated, "Any fool can make a rule.  And any fool will mind it."

Artists are prophets, not fools.  They are the voice of the people, and they're revolutionaries.  They, we, break the rules, wonder the road less traveled, and stick it to the man, all in the name of self-expression.  We loudly and proudly yet sometimes quietly assert our independence, our freedom, and engage in the age-old struggle of Man vs Society because we are not fools! We are artists.  All of us.  

And artists fear, more than anything, restrictions to the creative flow of genius, and of inspiration.

Lately though, I've begun to question this logic.  I recently listened to one of my favorite podcasts, R.E.M. and the Creativity of Constraints by one of my more recent favorite podcasters Mick Thyer and Jason Joel (Creative Confidant).  In this episode they discussed the role of constraints on artists and how it could inspire creativity, not extinguish it.  About midway through, Jason mentions this scene from Apollo 13:

"Well I suggest you invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. . . rapidly."  This task is hard enough, just ask any infant child, but add in the constraints of time - done "rapidly" - and the limitations of "nothing but that" and the confinements to creativity seem endless.  (By the way, lives depend on this so the freedom to "wait for inspiration" is also removed.)  

Yet, innovation, creativity, and imagination breaks through the barriers that initially seem to bind them. You might even say because of the limitations, they flourished.

Phil Hansen argues the same:

"Embracing a limitation can actually drive creativity."  This peg does not fit into the materialistic square of our more, more, more society and the message of, "Buy the latest iPhone, new computer, gadgets this, and gadget that - it that will help you be creative. Don't limit yourself!"

All the while, we find ourselves slipping into "a creative slump."

Constraints, like conflict, don't restrict us, they challenge us; they reveal us.

And they created The Boss.

Bruce Springsteen, in his autobiography Born to Runshares of the same restrictions and how when he finally embraced his limitations, when he finally stopped wanting everything, his music career changed.  

He writes:

I decided my bar band days at the moment were burning out.  I needed to travel light and be able to blow somebody away with just my voice, my guitar and my song.  Voice . . . guitar . . . song . . . three tools.  My voice was never going to win any prizes.  My guitar accompaniment on acoustic was rudimentary, so that left the songs.  The songs would have to be fireworks.  I decided the world was filled with plenty of good guitar players, many of them my match or better, but how many good songwriters were there?  Songwriters with their own voice, their own story to tell, who could draw you into a world they created and sustain your interest in the things that obsessed them.  Not many, a handful at best.

You want to talk about limitations, Springsteen had three tools to work with, then he whittled it down to one! ONE! And he became one of the most influential musicians of his time, sitting alongside Dylan and The Beatles.

One tool for Springsteen, one dollar for Hansen and "nothing but that" for the saviors of Apollo 13. 

What's your excuse?

For me, it's laziness.  Or fear . . . often both.  But then, this morning, I read this from Springsteen:

"Everyone knows some version of [doubt] in their life, whether on a big or small scale, along with the need to work it out. It's just that most wouldn't prefer to do it in front of thousands, but . . . This is the house of my vocation, the strange place I go do have this conversation with myself. Of course, you have your strategies, so . . . I resort to my will.  In performance, when called upon, oh doubting audience member, when you think it's over, when the vultures are circling and our blood is being smaller, based, my will, my bands concerted will, our insistent commitment to do-or-die, will come back hard to kick your ass and try to resurrect the day.  I learned from the best, my mother.  She willed we would be a family and we were. She willed we would not disintegrate and we did not.  She willed we would walk with respect through the streets of our town, and we did."

Constraints will test our resolve, our will.  It will question if whatever we're working for is really something worth fighting for.  And if so, it will make us fight desperately, to do-or-die.

Constraints, like conflict, will require so much more from us than freedom ever could. 

We were born with limitations and running away from them, "wild and free" doesn't release us from them.  Embracing them does. Like a fighter entering a cage, we need to circle the limits, kick some ass, and try to resurrect the day.  

Only then will we be ready to rumble.  

Only then will we be free.