Art is Limitation (or A Quote from G.K. Chesterton)
Is limitation something to curse or celebrate? Is true freedom found in the absence of limitation or in the midst of it? Any choice is a thousand denials – common sense tells us that. Does this mean that we can never truly be free?
G.K. Chesterton has often been hailed as “the apostle of common sense.” In his book, Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes some fascinating thoughts on the beauty and benefit of limitation:
To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else…Every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion. Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses…It is the existence of this negative or limiting side of will that makes most of the talk of the anarchic will-worshippers little better than nonsense.
Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold, creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffee with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature.
You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which in some ways is the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing.
What do you think? Do you agree with Chesterton? May true beauty and freedom be found within limitation and not in the absence of it?