The Enemy of Art Is the Absence of Limitations

Orson Welles? Henry Jaglom? Mildred Pitts Walter? Dom Hofmann? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant movie director Orson Welles has been credited with a fascinating statement about the construction of artworks in the presence of constraints. When a performer or creator faces a limit such as a tight budget for a production then creative thought and innovative techniques are required. The final work may embody a heightened artistry. Here are two versions of the adage ascribed to Welles :

1) The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.
2) The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.

I have not been able to find a good citation for this popular remark. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The most revealing citation located by QI was published in the 1992 edition of “The Movie Business Book” within a chapter written by the filmmaker Henry Jaglom. An instance of the saying was credited to Orson Welles by Jaglom. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[ref] 1992, The Movie Business Book, Edited by Jason E. Squire, Second Edition, “The Independent Filmmaker” by Henry Jaglom, Start Page 74, Quote Page 78, Fireside: Simon & Schuster, New York, (Verified with scans)[/ref]

Orson Welles once said to me at lunch, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Economically and creatively that’s the most important advice you can be given. You have limitations; you don’t have $1-million to blow up that bridge, so you have to create something else on film to produce the same effect. Instead of having money to hire hundreds of extras, you have to sneak a cameraman in a wheelchair through the streets of New York City and steal the shot, which gives you a look of much greater reality.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared a few years prior to 1992 in a magazine dated February 1988. Details are given further below. Yet, the above cite is crucial because QI conjectures that Jaglom was the person responsible for placing the adage into circulation. QI has not located any direct evidence of the statement in the writings of Welles or in an interview with Welles.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In February 1988 “Metropolitan Home” magazine published an article titled “Home Takes Shape from the Inside” by Ziva Freiman. The author mentioned the maxim and credited Welles. However, no precise information about the source of the expression was provided:[ref] 1988 February, Metropolitan Home, Volume 20, “Home Takes Shape from the Inside” by Ziva Freiman, Start Page 76, Quote Page 76, Published by Meredith Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa. (Verified visually by a helpful librarian at Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia)[/ref]

Orson Welles once said that absence of limitations was the enemy of art.

In May 1988 “Theater Week” published a column featuring a collection of quotations. Jaglom was identified as the nexus for the distribution of the statement ascribed to Welles. The periodical included a parenthetical phrase to help explain the meaning of the adage:[ref] 1988 May 2, Theater Week, Volume 1, Number 38, Theater Chat: Quotables collected for your edification by Paul Steiner, Start Page 72, Quote Page 72, Published by That New Magazine, Inc., New York, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to Bonnie Taylor-Blake and the University of North Carolina)[/ref]

“One of the best things Orson Welles, my friend for 15 years, ever said to me was, ‘the enemy of art is the absence of (financial or physical) limitations.'”
Henry Jaglom

In 1991 the autobiography series called “Something About the Author” from Gale Research published an article by Mildred Pitts Walter. She ascribed a version of the saying to Welles:[ref] 1991, Something About the Author: Autobiography series, Volume 12, Entry: Mildred Pitts Walter, Start Page 283, Quote Page 297 and 298, Published by Gale Research, Detroit, Michigan. (Verified with scans from online Gale database) [/ref]

As a fiction writer, I learned that relentless discipline is required. Orson Welles declared, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitation.” I learned to walk that tight line between complete control and no control.

In 1992 Henry Jaglom wrote an essay titled “The Independent Filmmaker” for the collection “The Movie Business Book”, and Jaglom asserted that he heard the maxim directly from Welles. This evidence is the strongest located by QI though it entails one level of indirection. This citation was noted at the beginning of this article:

Orson Welles once said to me at lunch, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

In the 1990s Perry Westwood worked for a corporate communications agency in London called “Imagination”. Westwood attended the “Intermedia 1998” conference in Germany, and he employed the maxim while speaking to a reporter from “Communication Arts” magazine:[ref] 1999 March/April, Communication Arts, Conference Review (Maja Janders reports on Intermedia ’98, held in Bremen, Germany), Start Page 218, Quote Page 224, Column 1, Published by Coyne & Blanchard, Palo Alto, California. (Verified on paper)[/ref]

Westwood admitted that he sometimes feels uncomfortable with marketing terms, but added, “I don’t think you can escape from that…I think that it’s a very good discipline to work with boundaries; the absence of limitations is the enemy of art and if you can be expressive within a corporate realm, you can be expressive outside of it.”

In 2013 an article about the video app Vine which facilitates the sharing of short video clips was published in the UK periodical “The Observer”. The Vine Company was acquired by social-media company Twitter in 2012. The article presented a comment about limitations by Dom Hofmann who was a co-founder of Vine:[ref] 2013 November 2, The Observer (UK), “Vine: in the future everyone can be famous for six seconds”, Dominic Rushe, Guardian News and Media Limited, London. (Accessed online at on May 24, 2014) link [/ref]

Like Twitter and its 140 characters, Vine’s limitations have been its making, says Hofmann. “If you give somebody constraints, it’s easier to be creative,” he says. “There’s a quote by Orson Welles, he was a film-maker [he adds helpfully], he said: ‘The enemy of art is the absence of limitation.'”

In conclusion, QI believes Orson Welles can be credited with this maxim; however, the words were relayed via Henry Jaglom. The precise wording is uncertain, but QI recommends the version given by Jaglom in 1992. Perhaps stronger direct evidence will be uncovered by future researchers. QI has located no alternative compelling ascriptions.

(Great thanks to Mindy Starns Clark whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Bonnie Taylor-Blake for accessing the 1988 citation in “Theater Week”. Special thanks to the librarians of the Savannah College of Art & Design for accessing the 1988 citation in “Metropolitan Home”.)

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