Defined by Limitations.

Yet again, I am about to post a quote from a visual artist, because I think it’s relevant to the writing life.

We are who we are as artists because of what we paint and how we paint it, but we are also defined by our limitations. It matters what we want to make and what comes forth as we work—intentions informed by knowledge and desire, subject to our best abilities and our limitations. I see my limitations as part of my identity as a painter, and I know the struggle involved in the making of any painting is necessary. I usually consider paintings that seem to have been made without struggle to be suspect. Painting is very difficult work, requiring endless patience.

-Alan Feltus

Just go ahead and substitute “write” for “paint” and I’m sure you’ll see why I like this so much. It’s nice to know that struggling is a necessary part of the creation of any art, but probably my favorite thing he talks about is the fact that we are defined by our limitations. Now, maybe it’s just me and my perfectionism, but I constantly feel like I need to master every aspect of whatever skill I’m working on. Rubbish. None of us are going to be able to write like Fitzgerald AND Shakespeare AND Austen AND A.A. Milne. The idea is preposterous. When our heads are screwed on straight, we don’t even want to write like all of them, do we? The ways in which we are limited are what give us a unique voice.

By the way, I got this quotation from an essay, which you can find here, if you’re interested. It’s definitely geared toward visual artists, but it has plenty of things to say which can easily cross over into any creative endeavor. I’m going to be chewing it over for quite a while, so you’ll probably be seeing a longer Thursday post on it at some time in the future.

2 thoughts on “Defined by Limitations.

  1. It’s definitely not just you. I often feel like perfectionism is a thing every creative develops and then continually seeks to grow out of. I know it’s something I’m almost always struggling against anyway. So I love the quote. It kinda reminds me of another quote I really like.

    ‘I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.’ – Mikhail Baryshnikov


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