Does true creativity exist in the balance between the limitless and earthbound limitation? Drawing on the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, Alan So and Alison Michael of creative agency Sköna think so.

Some days, when inspiration strikes like lightning, working as a creative can feel exhilarating. But there are also days when inspiration feels frustratingly elusive.

The good news? Even when inspiration is fleeting, creativity can be conjured. All it takes is some polka dots.

Artist Yayoi Kusama’s career has spanned over 70 years and various media, but she’s best known for her dizzying uses of polka dots. At first glance, her work is full of whimsy. Digging into her history, however, one learns that Kusama’s polka dots find their origin in terrifying hallucinations she experienced in a traumatic childhood.

Her mirrored rooms, currently wildly popular in part due to their Instagram-ability, invite audiences inside to experience an unexpected duality: connecting the limited medium of the polka dot to the infinite.

Creativity is found in (and honed by) a similar duality: the expansive (dare we say infinite?) force of collaboration that creates unexpected connections, and the limiting power of boundaries, guardrails, and boxes.

Feeling low on inspiration? Here’s how to harness this duality to unlock your own infinite creativity.

Collaboration is key for pushing your own boundaries

Collaboration has been a consistent recurrence across Kusama’s artwork. She’s painted bodies in performance art, worked with fashion brands, and co-created an experimental film. Creativity is a team sport: without collaboration, you’re limited to your own ideas and mediums.

Collaboration is like a productive game of telephone: you start with one idea, and others build on it, twist it and shake it, so that new clever directions take shape, molded and formed. This is particularly true when cross-pollinating with different disciplines, expertise and backgrounds. The more diversity in the room, the greater the context, insight, and breadth of experience.

Collaboration allows us to disrupt our comfort zone. When you know what works, it’s easy to find yourself reworking the same material or techniques to meet deadlines. Bringing fellow creatives into the mix can help you turn things upside-down and embrace the challenge of trying something new. Collaboration is an experiment of opening yourself up and pushing your own boundaries.

This requires flexibility and a willingness to learn, but the end results often come with excitement and energy that can resurrect latent inspiration.

Limitation is fuel for creative breakthroughs

While collaboration is all about expansion, limitation is the contraction needed to focus energy where it matters the most. Across all her many mediums, Kusama always returned to her polka dots. Sometimes we are at our most creative when we have the fewest available resources. Like children creating swords out of sticks, creatives can use guardrails and boundaries to fuel their ingenuity.

This can be particularly potent at the start of a project when energy is high and ideas are abundant. Creation comes fairly easily when the sky’s the limit, but simplicity (less ideas, less color, less words) can actually push us to be more powerful and impactful. When we try to say everything, we say nothing. When we say a single thing, on the other hand, it can be heard loud and clear.

As much as being a creative person is about thinking outside the box, working within boxes ignites critical thinking and pushes us to be creative problem solvers.

Collaboration and limitation in client work

As for client work, it may seem obvious that collaboration happens between the client and the agency, but we take it further. We believe every organization is built upon the people that make it. So for us, collaboration looks like having folks from all across a client’s company in the room when we are working through brand messaging and strategy. From sales to customer service to the C-suite, everyone’s perspective will help us to build an authentic brand voice.

Regarding limitations, client work always exists within confines like budget, medium, specs, target, goals and objectives. These work in our favor. They give our work meaning and direction. These guardrails empower our innovation and creative problem-solving as we work within them to ensure that what we communicate resonates with the intended audience.

Creativity in our world is often synonymous with being brave, bold, innovative, and authentic. Like Yayoi Kusama’s work, the dual forces of collaboration and limitation help us to create something true, clever, and beautiful that stands out from the crowd.

Originally published in The Drum, 2023. 

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