I wrote the following post back in early 2009. I am replaying it today just as a reminder to myself to not get too caught up in my own set of rules for my work. I have to tell myself to remember that sometimes it’s the straying from the norm that creates the new norm.
Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.
–Henry David Thoreau
I have always had a problem with adhering to rules, in practically all aspects of my life. It’s as though when a rule is presented, a part of me automatically starts figuring out an exception to the rule, a way to go around it. In everyday life this is not always a desirable trait, often putting one at odds with the law and one’s own conscience.
But, as luck would have it, this trait is indispensable in art.
It’s always amazing to me how many artists are tied to their own set of rules and nothing can deter this adherence, even if straying a bit might actually cause their work to really blossom.
For example, I know a painter who will generally only paint what is before him, either in person or in photos, and will not add or subtract any detail from the scene. He once showed me a painting that was really painted beautifully, rich and bold. Everything worked well and the piece was really eye-catching except for a telephone pole that bisected, in a very intrusive fashion, the very middle of the canvas. It was a real distraction that threw off the whole weight of the composition and stripped away a lot of the appeal that it might hold.
“Why is this pole here?” I asked.
He gave me a quizzical look then said, “Because it’s there.”
He explained that it was in the scene as he had photographed it. When I asked if it had any purpose in the painting he said that it didn’t but it was part of the original scene as he saw it.
There was a certain realization that came from this brief exchange. I realized that there were truly talented artists who can sometimes be shackled by their own rules and that absolute adherence to any arbitrary rule can be the death of creative expression.
Now, I’m sure there will be those who would argue this point and would be able to point out any number of examples that might contradict this statement. So what? They are mere exceptions to this loosely formed rule.
So, kids, here’s the moral of this story: In art, keep the rules around as guidelines, but when you need to paint outside the lines or cut out that ugly pole that is breaking up a beautiful scene, just do it.
PS: I would probably amend the wording in Thoreau’s quote to damn fool. Those two words seemed forever linked in my mind. Besides, if you’re a fool there’s a pretty good chance you’re a damn fool.