Exploration of Limiting Situations

Hello all–Dani here!

Art Beyond the Classroom’s mission is to provide a safe space for imaginative freedom, creative play, and exploration in visual art for children (ages 3-21) in limiting situations.

But what is considered a “limiting situation?” If you really think about it, aren’t we all limited in some way by some thing – whether it is in or out of our control? To be limited is…


…to be confined, to be restricted, to be lacking breadth and originality – to fulfill that definition, doesn’t there need to be something to base “limited” off of? A norm to determine what should be considered “limited” and what is, well, for lack of better terminology, “normal?”

I struggle with this idea that there is such a thing as “normal” that exists, so instead, I will refer to what is typical. That brings forth a whole host of other issues. On one hand, there is the “personal typical,” or what exists as a norm within one’s own personal understanding of their life.

SquaresI like to visualize this like two squares:

One square is what the person expects; it is the distinctive qualities of their life that pertains to their life a majority of the time. In other words, it would not be out of the ordinary for them to have experiences within that entire square (diamond – lightly shaded). The other square, shaded a bit darker, is the situation that life throws at them that would be considered “limiting” to them personally because it restricts them from reaching all edges of what is typical for them. This is a subjective consideration of what is abnormal because though this may be truly limiting to one person, for the person beside them, the darker grey square may be considered part of their typical experience. (Hence why defining typical and limiting is so challenging!)

The personal typical can include a host of different scenarios, but one I have personally experienced stands out for me as I try to wrap my mind around this idea of “limiting situations:”

When I was entering in to my freshman year of high school – picture it now – 14 years old, I was a little socially awkward, hardworking, and a non-athletic-looking athlete. Towards the end of the summer, I noticed an increase in pain in my back while I would be doing different activities. My parents decided that I should go get it checked out. Little did I know that over the next two and a half years, what I considered “typical” would be limited by scoliosis, or the curvature of your spine.

Now, in hindsight, I am very lucky that it was just scoliosis! It truly is not the end of the world, though at times it felt a little bit like it as a young teen.

As my growth spurt continued, a wider “S” curve developed in my back (rather than making me a few inches taller, which would have come in handy as a basketball player), so the doctors decided that to avoid a spinal fusion surgery I should be put into a Boston Brace for 20 hours a day until my growth plates closed. What is a Boston Brace? Basically, it is a 1.5 inch thick solid plastic corset that is hand designed to theoretically help prevent my curvature from increasing. “For 20 hours a day” – giving me enough time to exercise, shower, and maybe have dinner without being physically restrained by this crazy contraption.

I vividly remember the first day wearing the brace to school (thankfully, I could wear under my clothes, but you could see the edges of the brace through the clothes sometimes); I was in Leadership Development class – third row from the front. Being slightly clumsy as it was to begin with, I knocked my pencil off of my desk. So, as any student would, I reached down to grab my pencil. It took about half a second of reaching over to realize that I had just tipped too far, and, without any access to abdominal or back muscles, there was nothing stopping me from crashing face first into that cold, dirty, white tile floor. And so, that is exactly what happened.

Thankfully, I was able to laugh at myself and all was well; I became friends with the girl next to me who would kindly pick up my pencil the numerous times I dropped it after that incident and I learned a knew wall of my abilities. The point of this story is that for the next two years, I had to constantly learn to adapt and change what I considered “typical” because of a restriction that was placed in my life. I was suddenly forced within that dark grey square. However, this was a personal typical experience. Some people, people with a physical disability, for example, live their daily lives without being able to reach that pencil on the floor. That is a typical experience for them. In that regard, I am extremely blessed that the situation I was limited by was only temporary! But for me, this was out of the ordinary and therefore caused a level of discomfort and made me feel confined in what I was capable of doing.

On the other hand, there is something I like to call the “cultural typical,” or what we as a society or culture (broadly defined, as there are endless cultures within our larger society) define as typical. Whether it is stages in development or experiences that children face, the cultural typical embodies what is popularly associated with a child in our society. You can imagine the same square model as shown above for this – the outer square being what is expected to been experienced as a child (age 3-21), and the darker square being a limit placed on groups in society that does not allow them to reach that expectation.

In my hand-written version of this, I jumped with an arrow to this thought: “What are differences between an obstacle and a limiting situation?” Maybe, in part, this is what the issue is above that I mentioned: we all face OBSTACLES, but do we all always face limiting situations?

Here is my mental image of this thought:

An obstacle is like a hurdle. It is difficult, sometimes extremely difficult, to get over. And these hurdles that we face may be really low or really high or right in the middle. Some hurdles will take training and assistance to get over. Some we may knock down! But, in some regard, they end. We pass through them and can look back on them whether we succeed greatly or fail tragically at overcoming them and say, “That was a real challenge!”

However, a limiting situation I picture as more of a small, dark walled-room – a room like on some magic shows, that has moving walls that close in on the person in the room until they figure out some way to escape in order to not be smashed by the no longer existent space! (Ok, maybe that is a little dramatic, but stay with me.) Unlike an obstacle, a limiting situation is a lot more complicated; it isn’t something that you can see past when you are looking at it: all you can see is the limits of where you are. Your training to “overcome” or cope with the oppression of those limits has to take place within the limits themselves.

It reminds me of the concept of squares and rectangles: every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square; every limit is an obstacle but not every obstacle is a limiting situation.

Ultimately and in some ways unfortunately, I could try to conceptualize what we mean by “limiting situations” for 100 pages or more! In other words, this is in no way, shape, or form a complete thought. However, for now, I will say this: Art Beyond the Classroom seeks to serve children who are within facilities which either associate them with or, in some ways, put them into personal or cultural limitations: specifically, our curriculum spans across pediatric healthcare, emotional support and trauma, and special education and early intervention areas.

ABC has a redemptive view on suffering similar to that of Viktor Frankl as he recounts in Man’s Search for Meaning: one tries to find a greater purpose, a redeeming end, and hope amidst the darkest of “small squares.”

To leave you on an uplifting note, I want to quote an idea from one of Allison Trowbridge letters from her book Twenty-Two:

All I can say is, regardless of how bad it feels today, regardless of how dark and discouraging and constricting, by tomorrow today will have passed, and you will be a day forward…That is the glory of our world. You might bear the weight of life’s woes on your shoulders, but you can bear it – because in twenty-four hours you will be, I guarantee, one day further along. The dance of life is learning how to watch the world turning amid your troubles. It’s learning how to watch the world turn and let it swing you forward. It’s up to you whether you leap into that next day or crash into it…That is to say, tomorrow will come. And you, the beautiful human that you are, will be more resilient for having journeyed through the lessons of this hard moment. (p. 73-74)


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