Responding to Rutenberg: Limitations


In Brian Rutenberg’s Studio Visit #16, he begins the talk recounting some casual banter between friends over dinner one evening.  The subject was “limitations”, which he says “Every artist has” and that he is continually inventorying his. I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard him say this, wondering what, if any, limitations to being the artist he wants to be, he might have.

It was incredibly encouraging to hear an artist of his stature speak of limitations.  Though his list of limitations has largely to do with ways in which he would like to expand artistically, I nevertheless found it amazing that he often goes through the ways in which he feels limited and yet finds a sense of “spaciousness and comfort” there.

What I find myself listing as limitations in my art is largely in the categories of station in life (ie. motherhood), resources, and opportunities (living in a small town as opposed to an art mecca such as NY).  Nevertheless, I was encouraged and inspired by Brian to think of these boundaries or limitations as places where I actually can find freedom and “permission”.

He says, “Because perhaps it’s the intensification, the concentration of those limits, that give our work its truth and its humanity and its vigor…and content.  It’s that continual longing to break from those inescapable things, those limits, to get better, that I’ll never be good enough, that it’s the longing to get better, the longing to speak more clearly, more directly, with less, that keeps me going.  It’s very comforting, these notions.”


To say that his words were encouraging would fall short of the affirmation I received on hearing that all artists struggle with, or are at least cognizant of, limitations. And then, to be inspired to think of these limitations as places of “spaciousness, comfort, and permission” is something I’m carrying with me every day as I go about all the motherly and household duties, as I go about teaching art to young children, and the myriad of other things that seem to come between me and being the artist I long to be.  He goes on to say:

“So for me it’s not the question, “Are there limitations?” The question for me is, ‘Do I inhabit my limitations?’ And I think that’s the really important point: one must utterly inhabit their work.”

These final words on this subject were incredibly centering for me.  I now have this wonderful call to INHABIT my limitations each and every day.  To embrace them, and to create works in my sketchbook that continue to grow out of those limitations.  I may not be working on huge canvases and exhibiting them in galleries and shows, but I have the same call to create art and I must inhabit the life I have in order to create works which contain even a grain of “truth, humanity, vigor and content”.

Thank you Brian Rutenberg.

0 thoughts on “Responding to Rutenberg: Limitations

  1. anntnem says:

    Great post. Thanks for sharing his work – I, too, was in awe. I like this idea of working with our limitations. I have limitations of space and time for creative works as well, but also there are those limitations that actually keep me going. Like limitations of skill with a particular media or subject, that for me is like a puzzle that must be solved and eventually leads to the next challenge of a particular limitation.

  2. faithdance59 says:

    Wow indeed, these are deep thoughts. Challenging thoughts. Thanks for sharing them!
    I still need to think more about this. For the moment, I am just amazed how much you do despite your limitations. I am often wondering how others on the EDM list have time for all this – not just painting, drawing, but also reading all the posts and commenting. Even when I am on vacation, I have problems keeping up. I guess not having as much time and maybe being slower than others are some of my limitations that I need to inhabit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *