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Limitations: What the Arts can Teach us

Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

“I don’t know how to do that and I will never be able to learn.”

“That takes too much time.”

“The way things are now is just fine.”

“No one will listen to me, anyway.”

This way of limited thinking squashes creativity. Some people look at their limitations as a challenge and reason to push forward. I am challenging you to think of limitations in a way that inspires you, motives you, and allows you to think outside of the box and to be creative.

My daughter, Erika, is an artist and she loves to work with different mediums and textures in the pieces that she creates. She loves to learn, and, she thrives when she can mix her textbook learning with the art platform as part of her Arts Magnets program. By connecting the right-sided artistic part of her brain with her left side, she has mastered working with watercolors, chalk, charcoal, clay, and water-soluble paints. Most recently she has started to work with oils in her paintings. To do so, she has had to move outside of her comfort zone and risk some failure. She has had learn the qualities of oils, and the varied types of oils. She has needed to work to understand how the oils react under the stroke of her brushes, and she has needed to be observant, disciplined, and maintain perseverance in her commitment to mastering this new art form.

Portrait painted by Erika Johnson

Limitation is the catalyst for creativity!

Oils, like any other medium, have their limitations, and the artist must learn what those limitations are if they aspire to create a masterpiece of their own. Oils can be challenging and less forgiving than other art mediums, yet, oils can provide some of the most interesting and unique landscapes and portraits one could ever imagine. The brilliant textures and colors of oils bring a piece to life. I like to think that Erika grows stronger in her artistic journey, and in her life journey, each time she attempts to acquire a new skill.

One lesson that I am learning from my daughter, the artist is that limitation is the catalyst for creativity! I will say it again………… Limitation is the catalyst for creativity!

The artist works within the limitations of space, medium, and present skills and knowledge, to create something beautiful and unique. The successful artist challenges themselves to grow and explore. When we acknowledge our limits or limitations, and yet press on, it thrusts us into a new way of thinking creatively. Like an artist that has been provided with a 16 x 20-inch canvas and who is challenged to work with a medium within the parameters of that canvas, we can be inspired to work creatively within any limitations or parameters given to us.

In long term care we have limitations in the form of regulations that must be followed, and with reason. We are likely to also experience limitations in forms of resources, time, skill, and now COVID restrictions and response. Don’t allow those limitations to stifle your creativity in providing excellent care and opportunities for those you care for. Instead, think of those limitations as the catalyst to spark your creativity. Recall, limitation is the catalyst for creativity.
Think of some ways to accomplish your mission and develop them within in your teams.

Ask yourself and team the following questions:

What is our goal?
What can we do different to achieve the outcome(s) we want?
Who are the activators on your team?
What if we fail?
How will/do we push through potential barriers?

Don’t let your limitations stop you

In closing, and on a lovingly personal level, I enjoy sharing a particular story of my grandmother who prided herself on her many talents and who also worked to develop those things she considered to be her limitations. In her later years she chose to work on her creative side by taking a painting class. You could say learner was in her top 5 strengths (referring to StrengthFinders). The class syllabus required the student artist to complete one type of subject and/or medium before being able to move on to the next one. She progressed through chalks, watercolors, acrylics, still life, landscapes, and even portraits. Then came the challenge of painting animals.

My grandmother believed she had reached her limit, and told the instructor that she just was not capable of doing animals. That was met with strict opposition from the instructor. No animals, no progression. I can just imagine the lightbulb going off in my grandmother’s head, and, in true adherence to the premise that limitation is the catalyst for creativity, my grandmother set to work and at the next class she proudly turned in her accomplished assignment to paint animals.

The teacher was understandably puzzled when she saw what appeared to be a painting of a forest. When she asked about the animals, my grandmother clearly pointed out the squirrel tail showing from under a bush, the deer antler protruding from behind a tree trunk, the snout of a turtle emerging from the edge of the pond, and the beaks of some tiny hatchlings poking up out of a nest.

Recognize, respect, and then stretch your limitations. You may surprise yourself and others. Let’s all take a lesson from an artist.