Limitations and Freedom in Art and Life

"Freedom is something you have to be very careful about.  Whatever you do you find yourself in chains.  The freedom not to do something means that you're absolutely bound to do something else.  And there are your chains."

 --Pablo Picasso

"Molly" by Stephen Early (oil)

Lately I've been working with a limited palette, in order to develop my understanding of Value and Drawing.  This is a pretty common practice, and it's not just for beginners, either.  For example, Stephen Early, a masterful and professional painter whom I admire greatly, creates stunning figurative paintings using a very limited palette.

A limited palette suggested by Stephen Early, from bottom left, going clockwise:  black, burnt umber, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, and titanium white

Having limitations, or boundaries, can force you to develop your skills in a deeper way.  It's difficult to juggle all of the complications of Color, Composition, Value, and Drawing, and so it comes as a relief to simplify your color options.

This idea applies to Life as well as Art.  When we make choices that "tie us down," like choosing to buy a house, get married, get a job, have children, or even adopt a pet, we undeniably create boundaries for ourselves, but at the same time, we tap into an intense source of Creativity, Love, and Learning.  This can be appreciated by the fact that a room jam-packed with toys can overwhelm a child, while a simple cardboard box provides a whole day's worth of fun!

Nostalgic about my old

Anyway, the whole idea of Freedom, as something external, is a myth.   As Picasso said, "Whatever you do you find yourself in chains."  If I choose not to have a steady job or house, and instead live in a tent in the forest (as I have done in the past, I'm happy to say), it's certainly a valid and rewarding choice, but it's not a choice to be more free.  The chains are just different: financial stress, for example, or the inability to receive mail or take hot showers.

But I would take Picasso's statement a step further: with "chains" comes an invitation to experience an internal and enduring freedom, perhaps the only true freedom that there really is.  And this invitation waits for everyone.