Friday, August 6, 2010

About the Rules

Thinking about rules today, I would like to think I make my own. I guess I do, some of them anyway. About when and how often to brush my teeth, do my laundry, do the exercise video. We learn in childhood to say please and thank you, knock before entering, stand up straight. There weren’t many rules in my home so I found them elsewhere. I took them from the novels for girls that I read and almost memorized all of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette. Rules save you from getting into trouble and keep things running smoothly. It helps to know which ones you can break with impunity.

We learned some rules when I studied painting which I try to forget. There was the one about if you use a color somewhere in a painting, you must repeat it elsewhere in the same painting. A composition must, absolutely must, have a “center of interest”. No tangential lines or shapes allowed. Negative spaces must be as important as positive spaces. (What if you have neither?)

Here are some we learned that we have now been given permission to ignore: 8 Rules of Painting You SHOULDN’T Live By (and Why). For those we are told NOT to ignore (basically the same as the previous group), see The main rules of composition.

After years of straining to shed these rules in order to approach my work with a clean mind and eye, the rule that I keep with me is the one that serves me well. It is “Trust your process”. I heard that from a psychologist who wasn’t talking about painting. Still, to stay safe, it’s good to know what the rules are before flouting them.

I think I have broken several rules of grammar here.

Mark Twain: It is a good idea to obey all the rules when you're young just so you'll have the strength to break them when you're old.

The Image above is Poise ©2010, GiclĂ©e Print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.


  1. It's nice to read an artist's thoughts on this, after a lifetime of hearing the concept, that it's important to know the rules, and learn to follow them, before moving into freedom. I've often wondered if it's important, for instance, to take children to church, even if you as parents don't believe. I'm almost 54, and I do feel at this point in life that there is wisdom that comes from being tempered within the rules, having something to bump up against. The confidence that comes from really pushing the boundaries while trying to stay within them, and understanding the consequences, then moving into an individual sense of self, to me, is vastly important. I wouldn't want a life without both. I feel that it holds for art, music and life. Somehow I feel I am constantly seeking the self that exists outside of society.

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Ruth. It's nice to know that there are others whose thinking brings them to conclusions in line with my own. I often wonder if anyone responds to their experience of life as I do to mine and am comforted to know you are out there. I like feeling the connections.

  3. I much appreciate the sets of vertical paintings you've chosen to illustrate the last two posts.

  4. Thank you, Gordon. These groups are some of my favorites. They're especially nice to work on for printing when I can change the color ever so slightly and even move them closer together or separate them more. When they are panels adhered to canvas I often long to make those minor adjustments after they are set in place. Who said you can't have your cake and eat it too?