Art TED Talks

Crowdsourcing limitations: How you can become a part of Phil Hansen’s latest art piece

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As an artist, I’m always interested in looking at the defining moments in our lives, understanding how these moments affect us and finding different ways to represent them.

Phil Hansen: Embrace the shake Phil Hansen: Embrace the shake We all face limitations. I had the amazing opportunity to share my story at the TED conference this year. I came to do the art I do today not by a well-defined path, but by a defining moment in my life when I learned to “embrace the shake.”

Ever since I started preparing this talk last year, I thought a lot about the limitations we deal with and how they define us. It made me question why they sometimes hold us back and, at other times, push us forward. I became very curious about this process, and I wondered: if we looked at all our limitations collectively, what kind of patterns would we see? And what kind of insights would we have? When we hear other peoples’ stories, we often see reflections of our own struggles, triumphs, fears and hopes, which can give us new perspectives.

So, I had the idea to give out my phone number – it’s 651-321-4996 — and ask people to share a story about a limitation they’ve faced in their life. Many of these stories will be written to create a singular piece of art — based on the photograph below, which I took years ago in Seattle during a time when my limitation held me back from doing art. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of being rudderless and gives me a sense that life is always shifting in turbulent beauty.


Anyone is welcome to watch via the live feed (check it out below, or through my personal website) as each story is written onto the canvas. In the end, there’s a greater story to be told as we reflect on the stories of our lives. On that note, the second part of this project is to bring out the essence of this shared art experience by filming it, and putting together a short documentary. I’m asking people to back it through Kickstarter and, in the end, want to share it with all of you online.

I started the art for this project on Thursday, May 16. So far, it has given me the opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life. Occasionally, when I’m busy, someone will call me endlessly — 15 times or more — because they just need to get it out of their system. It’s a lot to juggle sometimes, between talking to people, making the art, and filming for the short documentary. But so far, it’s worth it. Here are a few stories people have told me so far:

“I was told that my learning disability would make it difficult to finish college. Now I’m having to decide between attending Stanford and Harvard — both universities fighting over me for grad school.”

“My limitation is simply myself. I always question whether I’m good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, artistic enough. I’m my own worst critic, and I struggle with it everyday.”

“Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering what will happen to make me willing to make the HUGE lifestyle change that would be required to lose over 200 pounds.”

There are a couple of really interesting elements that have already revealed themselves in this process. Many of the people I’ve talked to often feel completely alone in their experiences — like no one could have possibly gone through what they have. But then I will run into another story that is very similar to theirs. If you boil it down to just the limitation, with all the personal details removed, what you’ll see are all of our core human experiences.

I hope that people who share their stories can get a different perspective by seeing the limitation that seems so massive become so small on this huge canvas. In the end, I hope that when anybody looks at the final art piece, they can find a story that they connect with.

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