Your Greatest Frustration May Be Exactly What You Need

Erik Cooper —  April 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

I loved my high school art class. The late Mr. Larry Hurt (whose name actually seems more suited for a wrestling coach) was an impeccable educator, a finalist for the Walt Disney Teacher of the Year award, and a guy who knew how to get the best out of an amateur artist.

I still have a stash of my work in a giant folder under the stairs in our house (where it will likely remain until my kids use it’s existence as an excuse to put me in a nursing home someday).

Every Monday morning, I’d eagerly anticipate our next assignment. A table full of glass bottles and pottery bowls to be drawn in charcoal pencils. A vase of silk flowers to be captured by watercolors. A self portrait in acrylics.

But occasionally Mr. Hurt would pull the rug. Throw me a curve. Lay the “hurt” down (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Waiting anxiously for his sagely artistic guidance, some weeks he would simply look at us and say…

“Do whatever you want.”

Whatever I want? That’s not an assignment, that’s anarchy! You’re just cow-towing to those leather-wearing rebels with the eyeliner that steal my chocolate pudding in the lunchroom everyday. I need some clarification here please. Great art doesn’t just spontaneously manifest. I’m not God! I can’t just speak and have duck-billed platypuses swimming in the lap-pool. Gimme something. Anything!

And in a teenage moment of overdramatic cardiac A-Fib, I realized something that still rings true for me to this day:

There is unspeakable beauty in a blank canvas. And there is absolute terror in a blank canvas.

The blank slate initially seems freeing, but it can also trigger paralysis. We naturally assume a boundry-less existence is where we’ll create our best work.

“When I finally get out from under this crazy boss….”

“When I’m not hampered by these limited resources…”

“Some day I won’t have my idiot parents telling me what to do…”

“If I can just eliminate this whole God thing from the equation…”

But creativity explodes within limitation, an atomic energy that violently releases from the pushback of boundaries.

The first thing I had to do to successfully tackle an “anything goes” art assignment was create my own edges. What’s my medium? My subject? Paper? Canvas? Charcoal? Pencils? Acrylics? Each decision limited my scope. But each decision gave me an energized arsenal with which to create.

No parameters isn’t always an asset. And boundaries aren’t always the enemy.

So what’s your limitation? At your job. With your family. Your financial situation. Your business. At your church?

The very thing that frustrates you the most, may in fact be the fuel you need to create something beautiful. In fact, if you currently have no limits, the smartest thing thing to do may be to make some for yourself.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced the creative power of limitation?

5 responses to Your Greatest Frustration May Be Exactly What You Need

  1. In photography…if I don’t have a spelled out assignment or focus, I’m paralyzed. 🙂 Writing and my quiet time are the same way. Think I’m gonna take 10 minutes and dream up some boundary lines and focal points. Thanks!

  2. This post was exactly what I didn’t want to hear– but the same gentle message that’s been tip-tapping on my spirit all week. Message received.

  3. As a freelance musician (meaning I often have to create my own schedule) and a composer (similar to a visual artist in many ways), I am pretty much worthless without boundaries. Thanks for articulating this in a clear and motivating way.

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