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Rules: Replay

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.

GC Myers-  Solitary Crossing- 2009

 

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.

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I do what I can to convey what I experience before nature and most often, in order to succeed in conveying what I feel, I totally forget the most elementary rules of painting, if they exist that is.  In short, I allow faults to appear, the better to fix my sensations.

–Claude Monet, 1912

**********************************

I have had this little sign hanging in my studio for the last 16 years [over 20 years now], a rough reminder to myself when I begin to feel like my work is bending to the rules and judgments of others.  It reminds me that I am working in my own realm, my world.  I control the parameters of what is possible, of what defines reality in my work.  The rules of others mean nothing in my little painted world.

Over the years  I have glimpsed this small sign at times when I have been feeling that my work is stagnating or beginning to adhere to  accepted conventions.  At those times I have been spurred to push my work in some new direction.  It might come in the form of heightening the intensity of color or introducing new hues that seems incompatible with nature, for example.

It’s as though these two words are prods that constantly  tell me that nobody can control me when I am here in my created world.  There’s a great liberation in this realization and I find myself trusting my own judgment of my work more and more.  Because I have created  my own criteria for its reality, criticism from others means little now.

I think that’s what I am trying to get at here, that an artist must fully believe that they are the sole voice of authority in their work, that they, not others, determine its validity. Maybe that’s why I am so drawn to  Outsider artists, those untrained artists who maintain this firm belief in their personal vision and create a personal inner world of art  in which it can live and prosper.  Rules mean nothing to them- only the expression of their inner self matters .

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Solitary Crossing

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 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 instance, I know a painter who can only paint what is before him 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

Why is this pole here?” I asked.

He gave me a quizzical look and 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.

There was a certain realization that came from this brief exchange. I realized that there were truly talented artists who would always 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, the moral of this story : In art, keep the rules around as guidelines, but when you need to paint outside the lines, just do it.

Read Full Post »

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