(Video link here.) This slightly rough, illuminating 4-minute TED talk is by Philip Henson, an artist who developed permanent nerve damage that made it impossible for him to make the fine drawings he loved; his hand shaked so much he could only draw squiggly lines. When his neurologist asked “Well, why don’t you just embrace the shake?” Henson decided to try it, and began experimenting with different methods of making art that didn’t rely on being in control.

I went from having a single aproach to art to an approach to creativity that has competely changed my artistic horizon…I realized embracing a limitation can drive creativity

I wondered if you became more creative by looking for limitations.  

Gradually the embracing of limitations led Henson to explore the idea of destruction.

By limiting my theme to destruction, I let go of the tangible outcome and saw new possibilities. 

Now when I run into a barrier or find myself creatively stumped, I move from frustration to anticipation really quickly because I know something amazing might come of it.

improvise life sign sally schneider

with thanks to Michael Warren of Mike and Molly’s House

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2 replies on “phillip henson: embracing limitations can drive creativity

  1. The advice from Philip Henson’s doctor reminded me of an instructor I once had who offered a similar directive — “it doesn’t have to be perfect.” I was in a college drawing class and my output was very carefully crafted and, as a result, overly controlled and uninspired. My drawing professor suggested I take a sketchbook and non-erasable medium with me onto the city bus and draw from life. I still have the sketchbook as those drawings were some of my favorites — beautiful black squiggly lines that captured the speed, sudden stops, turns and general jostling of my rides around the city. I couldn’t delete or refine the marks I made. I had to forge ahead with the drawing and wait until the end to see what resulted. In most, if not all cases, they were much better than when I had labored over them in pursuit of “perfection.” It was a valuable lesson.

  2. What a professor, teaching WAY MORE than drawing. It doesn’t have to be perfect! My daily lesson. Thanks, Pamela

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