Why is it so Hard to Chose when the Possibilities Seem Endless?

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I like to talk to people about their jobs. I like to ask them about what it is, they actually do. I´ve learned that it is much easier to ask this kind of questions rather than to respond to them. So to practice, I did an exercise (found in a very informative book by Vicki Krohn Amorose called Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists) the other day. My task was to describe my job in an abstract manner. After a bit of thinking, I formulated with some effort „I confront the endless virtual design possibilities to my physical limitations like skill, patience, and material properties“ and felt genuinely pleased with my definition.

Then I was asked to use fewer and fewer words and finally leave just one last word. This was a different kind of task. Come up with a job definition is a creative task but this second one is about prioritizing what‘s important and what can be omitted. I eventually finished with two words possibilities and limitations and I felt stuck.

I liked the former and I had a slight reservation towards the letter. I, as I expect most of us, like a wide variety of possibilities to chose from. To chose equals to be free, doesn´t it? As a creative professional, I want to have a lot of inspirational ideas to choose from. I want to be able to work with a wide variety of materials. The knowledge of such possibilities gives me the faith that I won't run out of fuel and work to do.

Radial parametric design scheme animation
I want to be limited. It makes me feel more in control, more able to decide.

And at the same time, I hate to choose. When it comes to new design ideas I consider myself a hoarder. I want to keep them all, I take notes, I carry a sketchbook everywhere I go (a practice advocated by the great architect Jan Kaplický) I want to explore every idea, I want to finish every exploration. But I'm starting to realize that I just can't. I´m discovering a new limitation.

I design my crystal reliefs in a 3-D computer environment and some pieces I just can't take to the physical world. Well, I could but not in my beloved paper, I would have to switch to some sort of computer-aided manufacture. Paper has lots of limitations which make it easier for me to choose a path. Actually, I want to be limited. It makes me feel more in control, more able to decide.

Research tells us that some choice is better than none but a lot of choice is worse than some.

Berry Schwartz

Paper crystals for my reliefs must be of a certain dimension that corresponds with the used paperweight. My compositions must have a finite number of pieces to be finishable. And the underlying guiding principles must be interesting and yet simple so that the artwork is worth examining but doesn't seem chaotic.

And so I need to choose, prioritize, simplify, omit, exclude and delete. Austin Cleon calls it „Creation is subtraction“ and named the last chapter of his book Steal like an artist after it. These limitations sharpen my senses they help me chose a direction and stay on the path. Endless possibilities overwhelmed me. I hate to miss something, but I figure I want to learn this bit.

To return to the creative exercise of defining my work I limited the job description to just one word: limitations.

So that was my very personal reflection. If you want to know more about what science has to say about us making choices I strongly recommend you take 20 minutes off and watch the following TED talk by prof. Berry Schwartz:

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