My friend Janis and I were walking our dogs, Lily and Ryder, in the park one day when she told me about a fascinating reality show she happened to catch: A group of artists were paired off and each of the two artists in a pair was assigned the same book title and asked to design cover art for it. Some of the covers were very exciting, Janis said. But one woman who described herself as a fine artist objected to the restrictions the show imposed. “I guess she just didn’t want to be constrained,” Janis commented.
I know the feeling and I’m sure you do, too. Creativity chafes at constraints. When we’re on the page, we want to feel totally unfettered and in command of limitless possibilities. And yet, in my experience, an “anything goes” mindset, however alluring, can also be overwhelming. Boundaries aren’t always binding: think of all the butterfly beauty captured and contained in a Japanese haiku. Sometimes boundaries can actually free us to explore more deeply instead of more widely.
Here’s what Yip Harburg, the lyricist who penned the classic songs, “Over the Rainbow,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” said about constraints: “A great song requires a great composer, and a great composer brings out the best in a lyricist: the melody acts as a discipline on his wit and invention.”
Fascinating, isn’t it? Harburg never wrote the lyrics to a song first; he always worked within the limits imposed by a melody and used its structure as a vehicle for igniting his ingenuity. To help strengthen my own creative muscles, I’ve imposed some boundaries on this blog: each post has to be just one page long on my computer and every title has to have only two words in it. Playing within these parameters has been fun and challenged me to be more inventive. How about you? Are there constraints you might use to corral your words and ignite your igenuity?