Most standardistas encounter the "standards and accessibility limit creativity" argument at some stage. Yes, even in 2007. In fact these days it often morphs into "don't criticise AJAX just because it's not accessible", but I'll save that rant for another day.

Personally I don't think standards compliance adds any limitations beyond the natural limitations of the web (all media have their limits). But even if it did, does that prevent creativity?

rewind...

ansi art - mpc by sq2 ansi art - conspiracy by sq2 ansi art - perpetual winter by sq2

ANSI art by sq2 of esquemedia.com. Cheers for the permission, Rauri!

I've seen some impressive artistic results from people using limited media. One of the greatest and certainly an influential example in my life was ANSI art. ANSI is a joy I recall from BBSes, back in the day when my internal 14400 modem was hot and my computer's hard drive had less capacity than my current thumb drive.

ANSI was the basis for BBS interfaces, with a whole 16 foreground colours, 8 background colours and 256 characters. Shading was achieved using using combinations of foreground and background colours, a very small number of dithered blocks and the four half-filled blocks. That's it.

Big chunky blocks of colour couldn't possibly produce great art, right? Well no, actually here was an entire international art scene devoted to ANSI art. Plus if you ran a BBS, you had to have a great scroller for when you logged in. So people pushed the boundaries far beyond expectation, they took an incredibly limited medium and created rich artwork.

In a way, ANSI artists worked hard to produce great work because the medium was limited. It took skill to create a great ANSI artwork. You really couldn't fake it, although many people tried. So the greater the skill and the greater the kudos for producing an elite ANSI.

back to the present

I was reminded of ANSI art when I saw the results of The Man In Blue's blobular competition (the peacock is definitely my favourite).

The medium allows for blobs of colour. That's it. Did that create a limitation which prevented great work? No! Instead artists looked at the possibilities - the potential of the medium.

peacock - Blobular

I think the peacock demonstrates that well-executed artwork uses the given medium to the best advantage. For best results work with the medium, don't struggle against it.

The point? The limits of a medium simply define the creative space. They don't prevent people being creative within that space.

standards aren't limiting

Web standards just don't limit creativity the way people claim they do. You aren't prevented from producing great web pages just because you make them validate. Standards-based pages don't have to look like useit.com. CSS Zen Garden has proved this ad nauseum.

If you work in the web you have to accept the medium for what it is. You need to accept its limits, play to its strengths and try not to bring unrealistic expectations to the table. You have to accept that you need to make things validate and make them accessible, then add the funky design and behaviour over the top.

Sure, the web isn't a perfect medium. There's no such thing as a perfect medium! Print, photography, video, paint, music... they all have problems. Watercolours can run and ruin a wash; photos can get overexposed; printing presses can screw up colours; guitar strings can break during a gig.

Every medium has limitations. Part of creativity is getting around them and coping with the problems.

So anyway... that's my response to the claim that standards and accessibility mean you have to create boring pages. A canned answer to a canned question ;)

Update... A couple of links to examples of creativity with extremely limited tools: