Art, Limitation & Rebellion

Limitation gives distinction.  Distinction gives identity.  Identity enables relationship.


I spent much of my teenage years as one of a chosen few self-proclaimed anarchists.  Informed by the music and subculture that riveted nihilistic belief into our system, we disdained anything that hinted of imposed limitation.  Curfews, traditions, religion, timecards, legislation - all were named enemies of life as we saw it. 

Anyone who spoke as a mouthpiece for these types of organizations or played the role of an authority figure was suspect, not easily trusted.  As far as we could see, most of them secretly disdained their own “parroted” decrees, thinly adhering to them with lip service.  

Theirs was a culture of passionless dictates administered by those who had given up the fight and settled into numbing routines they could only tolerate but never love.  Why then would we follow their guidance?  Why would we allow them to determine right from wrong for us?  So we could end up like them?  We knew life had something more to offer, even if it meant we wrenched it from its arms like Prometheus stealing fire.  We were eager to tear through their fences and explore the terra incognita, beyond the borders of our elder’s fears.  There was an unexplored universe lying in wait for us on the other side of their laws and coercions.   


Our community of anarchists, misfits, artists and outcasts clustered together in the incubator of small town triviality, stricken with an anxiety that feared nothing else existed for us.  The county line was the edge of a flat universe but if this were so, we were already in hell and no violence on our part could send us to a worse fate than this.  Therefore a particular inconsequential liberty rested on us to do and act as we pleased.  We called this "freedom". 

Quietly, we came to love as much as we loathed the desolation of our forgotten little tobacco town in North Carolina.  For in it was the vast emptiness that afforded our imagination to awaken and summoned us to become the architects of our own reality.  There were no pre-fab dreams for us to step into. We had to be original. We had to become that for which we yearned. 

We were hungry with an insatiable, vampiric thirst to taste the blood of wonder and embrace a life uninhibited.  We longed for an elegant Night scantily dressed in starry revelation.  We tested the limits to see just how far was too far.  We lay beneath train tracks as speeding boxcars screeched only inches above our heads.  We inhabited abandoned buildings and houses.  Congregating beneath bridges and in hidden coves of the forest, we searched for any overlooked semblance of meaning.   Like metaphysical detectives, we hunted for clues to the existence of something beyond us that would speak to us, lead or guide us or at least let us in on its secrets.  In the same breath we denied our desire to be teased into submission by something greater than ourselves.  We were horses running madly, desperate to know if there were any substantial palisades strong enough to bring us pause.  Ironically, the very pursuit we insisted to be freedom, revealed a deeper cry for context.

Without context, there is no reference, no meaning.  All is left to chaos and chance.  All is subjective and fatalistic. 

The sad truth is we never found our universe in wait.  We never found the elegant Night waiting for us to disrobe it before the world.  No.  We took jobs.  We got fat.  We grew beards and went bald.  We had babies.  We married.  Some divorced.  Some stayed alone.  Some gave the stolen fire back to the “gods” and quit writing.  (We were all writers).  Most eventually quit believing and the pens whose ink once flowed with faith and passion withered leprous and empty.  

Our youthful revolt was no match for the juggernaut of age and circumstance.  Our lust for un-tethered encounter led several of us to drug overdose and drunken car crashes. Some found home in jails and prisons (I guess that still counts as being at least half alive).   Some moved away, assumedly still searching for that Elegant Night, (to grant the benefit of the doubt).  Perhaps they’ll still find it, but if they do, I question, will their strength be enough to carry it across the threshold for the rest of us?  

Others of our little community disappeared further into obscurity, blindly turning Samson’s treadmill. They became prisoners to the leeching hours sucking daily at what dreams remain within them.  I guess they learned to ignore the questions that once drove us mad.  I guess it no longer mattered where the boundary lines were drawn.  Perhaps, for them, they were drawn at the county line or the timecard. This may be enough to suffice them another day.

Things may not have ended the way we envisioned back in those days, yet the truth is, some things should be revolted against.  Some restrictions, particularly those within our own minds have to be transcended if we are to reach the fullness of our artistic vision.  There are greater truths that cannot be established within us until the small-minded, fear-driven safeguards are uprooted and cast away. 

These flimsy, self-protective limitations are never moral obstructions.


Much of the angst that drives our teenage years is not so much rebellion as it is a genuine desire for structure, albeit a self-determined structure.  It isn’t having restrictions that cause alarm.  It’s having imposed restrictions that weren’t set in place by our own choosing.  The angst we felt resulted from a need to learn for ourselves those prescribed margins were trustworthy or necessary. Unfortunately the cost of those lessons was often a lot of pain.  We needed to know their purpose is not to fearfully restrict to our detriment but to steer us toward the destinations our burning hearts ache for.  


Many of us mistake license for freedom.  We confuse liberty with excess.  Freedom is not the absence of restraint.  It is the ability to co-exist within a life-giving context that promotes growth into our greatest potential.  True freedom always involves a context within which to work.  When a vine is tied and pruned, it is not for the purpose of inhibiting its growth but to the end that greater fruit will come from it.  In a game of sports or hide and seek, the rules exist for the success of the game not as an end unto themselves.


By nature, artists are hardwired to push the limits, to press beyond our common understanding.  It is to the benefit of everyone that they be permitted and encouraged to do so.  Within that drive to push past the familiar, new avenues of creativity emerge.  New connections and associations come together in a synapsis that brings enlightening perspectives and deeper meanings to our experience.

The artist, much like sea driven explorers of the last century and the prophets of old gaze into the unknown. Compelled by hope to reach into the imminent blackness of uncertainty, they forge the way for the rest of us.  Never far from fear yet never bowing to its presence, the artist goes in search of a new world, a new language, a new discovery.

The call of maturity for the artist is learning to distinguish between the boundaries that keep the game in play and the prison walls that stifle experience.  For our little community of poets and musicians, there was no such distinction.  That failure brought with it, its own consequences. 

There are typically two basic drives that lead to pushing past the boundaries.  One, is a healthy curiosity.  Curiosity leads us to discovery and innovation and expands our understanding.  The second drive, while still maintaining an element of curiosity, is compelled by disregard.  The brilliant Christian teacher, Ravi Zacharias said it this way. 

"Seeking new sensations while violating the sacred, first desecrates the self and finally destroys the sensation."

There is a particular adrenaline release that comes with taking a risk.  Curiosity involves risk.  Curiosity asks the question, "What if?" 

“If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless. It is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits.”
Orthodoxy. pp.57-58. [edited] G.K. Chesterton



Time Management
One of the blessings and challenges I face is that when I am not on the road, I work from home.  The challenge with this (admittedly, more of a challenge for my wife than myself) is that unless I set them up myself, there are no predetermined boundaries between working and non-working hours.  Much of what I do for pleasure, such as reading, writing, and playing an instrument, I also do as part of my work schedule.  The lack of establishing clear boundaries has caused disagreements more than once. 

A working artist's life is not often governed by regular 9-5 hours.  It is a lifestyle with of a myriad of demands.  Performances or exhibitions are merely the "show and tell" aspect of the art - the tip of the ice burg.  The hard work happens in the private hours, in rehearsals and personal practice times.

If you are an independent artist, you also have the administrative hours spent booking and pursuing outlets for your work.  For many gifted artisans, the need for a secondary vocation comes into play as well.  So then you have time on the road, evenings spent in rehearsals, daily practice times, administrative hours, and also the time spent at another job.  This is just the time related to developing the craft itself, not to mention maintaining any semblance of a social life, down time or for someone like myself to give the quality time needed for my family.

The fact that I've done anything at all and have maintained any meaningful relationships seems quite a miraculous feat when I put it all together like this.  But somehow it works... Or does it?  Someone or something is going to suffer if something is out of balance.  Spinning plates and juggling knives is not a restful lifestyle, to say the least.

At one time in my life, on top of managing all of the above, I also worked for my church as the worship/arts pastor and tried to write books in the small hours of the night.  I eventually realized I could not do everything.  Something was getting the short end of the stick.  I cared deeply about all of it, but I had to make a choice.  I had to choose what to give my time and focus to.  I chose to pursue what pulsed with the most passion for me.  I chose to do that which I would do regardless of the money.  I chose to do that which I loved the most.  It cost a significant pay cut but it was the right choice.

The point of all of this is the importance of time management and the role of limitation in art. 


When I wake up in the middle of the night and every detail of my life rushes at me all at once, I become overwhelmed.  I can't think of everything simultaneously.  It only creates anxiety.  I think of Jim Carey in the 2003 movie “Bruce Almighty”.  He began to hear the prayers of everyone in the entire world rushing into his brain all at once. Through this, I gain a new appreciation for certain limitations.