Playing with Reality and Limitations

While watching the local Boston public channel I stumbled across the end of a documentary about photography that “plays with reality”. I only caught the last artist profiled, but his work was so amazing I had to find him online and post about it.

His name is Arno Rafael Minkkinen, and while seeing his photos I was literally watching TV with my jaw hanging open. Most all of his works are “self-portraits” where he uses his body in combination with nature to create truly unusual and amazing images.

On the documentary, he was talking a lot about how limitations can provide you with proper constraints to do things that are remarkable (he uses no digital tools or manipulation). I think this applies to many aspects of artistry, and of the human mind. In language, the constraints and limitations of our grammar make it so that we can understand each other. Breaking those rules makes problems occur.

I actually prefer constraints in artistry. It shows that one has a control and mastery over the specific set of rules and limitations that one is faced with.

Japanese arts do this a lot. Their poetry is highly structured with syllabic restrictions and content requirements (as in Haiku and Waka). The same is true of Noh and Kabuki plays, as well as traditional Japanese music. Indeed, the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute) “sheet music” uses Japanese characters that indicate finger positions only – not tonal notes. So, when musicians play correctly, they are encouraged strictly to do the proper fingering and head motions. The sound that comes out might be different for every player and every flute, and this is considered beautiful.

In terms of “comic” creation, this same tension appears in the “Infinite Canvas” versus standard formalism debates. Though I might be grouped in with Formalists, I think I prefer working with a structured page size most of the time. It gives me the proper constraints to then be creative within. If I recall correctly, at his MIT lecture, Scott McCloud intimated some of his own reflections about limitations. His preference for an Infinite Canvas stemmed from the idea that while limitations are good to have for art, self-imposed ones are better than those that come from sheer circumstance (like the size of a page having come from the history of printing). I intend to return to this idea once I ever get around to finishing off my next Comixpedia piece on visual language poetry (uh… hopefully soon).

In any case, go check out the work of Arno Rafael Minkkinen; it’s well worth the time spent.


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