Michael Easter had a great post today mentioning the new “art” form of Pecha Kucha. I happened to read the same Wired article today and was similarly fascinated. Pecha Kucha is done with PowerPoint and allows 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds yielding a 6:40 piece. See more a little more at Wikipedia.
I think constraints are absolutely freeing in a wonderful paradox. There’s so many classical music forms that composers wrote in, or the various forms of poetry, obfuscated programming contests, or even the 37 Signals “Getting Real” ethos which preaches timeboxed iterations.
Choosing the overall structure seems to box you in but actually removes choices giving you more freedom to focus on the content and to have that focus driven by the structure itself.
Whenever I think about this subject, I always go back to a creative writing class I took in high school where we had to write a sestina, which is a particular poetic form where you have 6 line stanzas, each of which ends in one of the same six words you choose in a particular order. I won’t torture you with the outcome, but I thought at the time that it was certainly something I would never have come up with without the structure imposed by the form.