Sunday, December 15, 2013

Proverbial wisdom

Though Robert Frost was not the first to say "Good fences make good neighbors" he certainly did a wonderful job of bringing that ancient wisdom to our attention.  Having seen what poorly described boundaries and setbacks have done to relationships in my neighborhood, I can't help but think this concept could have made a huge difference in our community.  But I think what the proverb describes is the importance of maintaining a critical balance between freedom and structure, and I believe it applies to the arts as well.

It seems to me that clear boundaries -- "good fences" -- give us enormous creative freedom.  As a writer and poet I love the creative challenge of a predefined framework: a ten-minute play, or a sonnet.  As an actress, I find the structure of the stage set and assigned lines frees me to imagine almost infinite possibilities for interpretation, while improv tends to make me freeze up.  As an artist, whether photographing or painting, if I've been given clear limits at the outset -- through materials and equipment, color choices, location, or subject -- my results are more inventive and spontaneous, often surprising, and generally more satisfying.

I believe the same is true in relationships: clear rules and boundaries at the outset tend to foster a sense of joy, comfort, and playfulness within the prescribed limits. Clearly there's wisdom in this proverb -- so, once again, we have much to learn if we pay attention to the lessons learned from mistakes in the past. You know the old saw: good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment... Which just reminds me of another wise proverb we neglect at our peril: "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

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