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Art and Limitations

I find that the structure of a medium -- its requirements and its very limitations -- provides a certain framework in which creation can more easily take place. When the infinite possibilities of a blank canvas are reduced to infinity-minus-a-few, that little crevice allows for a beginning. The wonderful graphic quality of linocut is enabled by the fact that there are only two kinds of lines the medium allows: a positive (or black) line, and a negative (or white) line. Gray areas are created by setting down patches of lines or crosshatching. Every linocut image emerges from this simple structure: this is linocut’s limitation and its glory. I often suggest that my linocut students try creating the same image twice: once, by carving out the lines themselves, and a second time by carving away everything but the lines. As these two beautiful artichoke prints by Abby Ginsberg demonstrated, the two approaches create quite different effects, and the exercise helps to solidify the charms and challenges of each.

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