The Enemy of Art Is the Absence of Limitations

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

orson07Dear 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: 1

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.

Continue reading The Enemy of Art Is the Absence of Limitations


  1. 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)