In school, it’s best to keep a broad perspective for as long as possible, but for “creatives” who’ve clocked their 10,000 hours of dedicated study years ago, today’s prescription runs counter to the above message.

In my on again, off again series of posts on the idea of embracing limitations in one’s creative work, which began here with the artist Robert Rauschenberg’s “house rule” and continues, this morning, to elaborate on a concept borrowed from the language department last time, “diacritical mark”, I thought it would be helpful to take another page from the writing realm, even as the author of In Writing With Style, John R. Trimble, takes one from landscape architecture.   

Trimble writes that writers need to work in harmony with their emotions – that if they aren’t that interested in their subject, the reader won’t be, either. Then he writes, 

“But what if the topic is assigned? What if you have no chance to ‘pick a subject you have a stake in’? Ah, then you have to create a stake in it. You do that by learning your subject cold – by going after it aggressively, like an intellectual conquistador, and treating it as a challenge to your powers of imagination, curiosity, and open-mindedness. The deeper into it you go, of course, the more you have to work with, right? And the more in command you get to feel, too. Eventually, you find yourself ready to teach others what you have learned – and to make it downright interesting for them. You can do that in part just by keying on what you found interesting. Maybe that’s your angle right there.

I recommend we take a moment here to think about Russell Page, perhaps the finest landscape architect that England has produced, at least in the 20th century. Virtually all of Mr. Page’s projects were ‘assigned’ (commissioned), and often in the most unpromising locales – a marshland, say, or a windswept highland, or a property far too wide and far too shallow. Yet he managed to turn out one elegant landscape after another – truly gorgeous things. How? Mainly his attitude. ‘Limitations imply possibilities,’ he wrote in The Education of a Gardener. ‘A problem is a challenge.’ Isn’t that a beautiful way to view things?”

Limitations imply possibilities. A problem is a challenge. As it’s been said, attitude is everything. 

Again, the term I’ve inserted into the art domain is diacritical mark. As it was meant to be used, in the linguistic and grammatical context, the term basically means an accent mark; a distinguishing mark. In other words, something different; unique; characteristic; idiosyncratic.

And isn’t that what we all want our art to be? Don’t we all want to ‘make our mark’ – our mark – the mark only we and we alone make?

Perhaps we ought to take a page from Mr. Page – whether we have the opportunity to create that next series with no client direction or restrictions whatsoever or have to work within tightly established parameters as Russell Page often did, we can still make our diacritical mark on the world.