Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Lately I've been thinking a lot about rules. The rules other people people impose on us, but more importantly, the rules we impose on ourselves. The unwritten rules that we live by, that we might not even be cognizant of. I've picked up so many of these unwritten rules over time. I've absorbed them from my culture, my community, the artists that I look up to. And it is rarely, if ever, the case that I hear a rule and make the conscious choice to follow it. I don't sit down and think, "Yes, I am going to let this rule dictate what I do." The rules are stealthier than that. They enter my subconscious and drive my behavior through emotion. They manifest as guilt, fear, or self-doubt whenever I am close to violating them.
This came up recently as I was thinking of new painting ideas. I got the urge to paint a still life, and was thinking about how I would set it up, snap a photo while the sun was still out, and paint it. Then I felt a pang of guilt - why was I going to take a photo? I should paint it from life. Nevermind the fact that I work a day job and usually paint in the evening when there is no more natural light. Nevermind the fact that many of my favorite painters work from photographs. Nevermind the fact that most of my favorite paintings of my own are from photographs. No, I should paint the still life from life, because that is what a "real" artist would do.
When I was just starting out as a painter, I might have allowed the initial pang of guilt guide my actions. I would have set the idea aside and waited until I had time that weekend (or the next weekend, or the next) to do a full painting from life using natural light. And why? Because I was following an arbitrary rule that I had absorbed from my art teachers, rather than doing what made the most sense for me, what was most helpful to my own art practice.
Now I know better. Over time, I've learned which experiences help me and which ones hinder me. And I've learned to let go of the rules I've outgrown (or that never really fit me in the first place). After all, that is the beauty of art: there are no rules. We make our own path.
And the still life? I took a photo and painted it, joyfully and without regret.
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