Many years ago, predating my time as a professional videographer and visual effects artist, I was sitting in a summer class for acting. I was chiefly concerned with expanding my knowledge of acting technique to better pursue my dreams of becoming a director of cinema. Acting class, if you’ve never taken one in, usually consists of a series of illustrative exercises.
One exercise was called, “the walk”. Each student was to come to class that day with some simple, mundane ritual that would be performed as part of a personal ambulation. One student, Brian, went first. His walk consisted of moving down a sidewalk, spotting a dollar bill on the ground, and taking it up. After he had completed the simple pantomime, the teacher gave him an instruction.
“Do it again – and this time, suppose there’s a piece of chewing gum stuck to the dollar bill on the ground.”
Brian began his walk again, approached the dollar bill, bent over to pick it up and, realizing it was stuck, stood back up and continued his walk.
“No, no, no,” the teacher said, “You’re avoiding the obstacle. Don’t do that.”
Brian looked confused as he walked back to his starting position.
“Embrace the obstacle,” the teacher reassured him.
Brian crossed the room, bent over to pick up the bill, and tried very hard to lift the imaginary bill. Everyone laughed. He pulled the bill loose, but became tangled in yards of invisible, sticky gum. More laughter. He used up the empty stage, cleaning both himself and the bill. And everyone experienced a relevant, simple spark of creativity. But it was thanks to the obstacle, not the objective.
Blank space, to the creative professional of any field, is slippery like ice. There’s an infinite number of possible objectives when you place a pen, brush, character, code, or mouse to a blank space in an attempt to create something. It’s so slippery, in fact, that it’s not difficult to send whatever you create spiraling into a wreck of unusable, irrelevant, and uninteresting nonsense. Worse yet, it might be completely mundane and ordinary.
And, people don’t like to talk about constraining creativity: Some believe that constraints squelch or kill creativity when, in reality, they provide the only real traction that is necessary for you to move anywhere meaningful.
Luckily, in the world of professional creativity, there is no shortage of obstacles. Time, money, equipment, the limitations of technology, even your own ability, or any combination of these things will never cease to provide obstacles in whatever field you pursue.
Just be sure to embrace the them, or you will never reap their benefits.