I taught a collage class on February 24th, and I was really struck by one thing: Unlimited options can be utterly overwhelming. When you can do anything, what do you do? When you can go anywhere, what direction do you start moving in?
Sometimes, stepping into my own studio is overwhelming. I have tools and materials to do jewelry-making, found-object sculpture, acrylic painting, encaustic painting, printmaking, sewing and more. In many ways, my studio is a mixed media artist's fairytale wonderland, full of options. I have had plenty of times in my life when I felt restricted by external limitations, and my current studio certainly reflects that.
But having a studio like this doesn't mean it's always easier to make things.
Sometimes, I sit out here and surf Facebook on my phone. Because there are just too many possibilities.
"Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources." -Twyla Tharp
Artmaking is all about making decisions, hundreds of tiny decisions that add up to a solution to one of the world's most vague and poorly defined problems: "In what ways might I meaningfully fill this empty space?"
Sometimes, I need limits.
I need a structure. I need a place to start, something to narrow down the problem a bit and knock it down to a manageable size.
Putting limits on an artist usually sounds like a bad thing. And yet history is full of artists using self-imposed limits to push their creativity: The haiku. Mondrian's use of a limited palette and straight lines during the 20's and 30's. Even Rodin's focus on the human form in sculpture and Shakespeare's endless sonnets.
As I rebuild my own creative practice, one of the things I've been doing is giving myself some limits. A favorite? The square paper punch. I punch squares out of scrap paper, out of junk mail, out of magazines and catalogs and the bits of paper that my students toss in the recycling bin. And then I arrange the squares and glue them down, almost like paper quilts. I've been doing it for about a year, and I find it to be amazingly creatively satisfying.
I'm the one deciding whether or not to accept the limitations, and that makes all the difference.