The joy of saying "no"

In a great conversation I had years ago with Richard Kim, we discussed the question "what is art?" After some initial stabs at the question, I came up with a definition which, to this day, I haven't found an exception to:

Art is constraint.

My initial inspiration for the definition was the fact that, if you put *anything* in a picture frame, you can legitamately call it art.

But why isn't a pile of sand, in and of itself, art? (Some people claim that it is, but I don't for the practical reason that allowing anything to be art renders the term useless)

It turns out that, from whereever you look at it, creativity is constraint. By constraining wood and steal and plaster to occupy certain positions in space, we create houses. "Constraint" is an important word here, because of it's strong association with "restraint", or to inhibit or keep within bounds. Constraint is a denial of many possibilities, and committing to one.

In life we are presented with infinite options. This is especially true the wealthier we are, and the more prosperous the society is in which we live. As our lives become less about the fight for survival, where instinct and reaction are important, and more about the fight for something more (self-realization, enlightenment, etc) we have to say "no" more. We might say "no" to dessert. We say "no" to drugs. Some of us say "no" to watching TV, or to premarital sex, or to fast food, or to pornography, or....

We are awash in oppurtunity to do wrong. And right. I daresay that the former outwieghs the later considerably. This array of choice *is* freedom. Because freedom is so frought with risk, some people don't like it. It's because they don't understand the joy of contraining their own behavior, the joy saying "no".

When you constrain yourself, when you say no, you are creating something. You're choosing. You're creating yourself. That is freedom.

No comments: