I’ve often been impressed by the wisdom of this quote. At first it seems counter-intuitive. Why would having no limits be the enemy of art? If we had an endless supply of whatever we needed couldn’t we produce that much more in terms of creativity and imagination? As it turns out, the absence of limitations has just the opposite effect.
A painter with only so many colors on his palette and only so many brushes, uses those limitations to create his art. It is precisely because the canvas is only so large that he has to figure out a way to convey his view of the world within the confines of that space. That’s where the art comes from. If the canvas were 6 times larger, would the artwork be six times better? We now have computers that can produce 60 million colors. Has it vastly improved our artwork?
And if we take the idea of art beyond a reference to the fine arts, we can see that the art of marriage, the art of communication, the art of life is greatly enhanced by and is borne of our limitations.
In the 70’s people in America experimented with open marriage believing that by not being limited to one sexual partner, marriage would be enhanced. Rather than creating something beautiful, those marriages often became a mess. The experiment was generally considered a failure. In relationships, if you wish to perfect the art of marriage, the fact that you are limited to one partner requires you to be much more creative, more inventive and more sensitive to subtle distinctions than you would otherwise be. Successful couples create new ways of doing things together, improving their communication, their understanding of each other and can still appreciate what they have created after all these years.
The phenomenon of Twitter exemplifies Welles’ quote beautifully. One could argue that Twitter has spawned a tremendous amount of creativity precisely because it limits all messages to a scant 141 characters. You have to be creative to get your message across in such a limited framework. Consequently, people have devised ways of expanding their messages by placing links to longer articles and videos within their message. Out of this limited space has come an explosion of social networking, link sharing and search capabilities that will soon rival Google. People are transforming Twitter from a novelty tool into an art form.
In the art of living, we might take a second look at our limitations and see them not as impediments to success but, rather, as an integral part of our enjoyment of and survival on our planet.