With the arrival of the Fourth of July, which marks the United States’ celebration of Independence Day, I’m reminded of our basic desire to be in charge of our destiny. We’re a nation built by the world’s flotsam and jetsam that washed upon our shores seeking a fresh start and fairness. This desire led to the formation of a democratic republic governed by The Rule of Law based upon a Constitution. As Thomas Hobbes stated in The Leviathan, it is the covenant we embrace to ensure peace and social order.
The creative life of an artist has parallels. Most artists desire independence to express what they wish without the restraints of conformity, but must also work within the confines of the physics of the natural world, especially if they paint in a representational style. Through study and observation of the visual laws of perspective, form, depth, and color/value perception, artistic rules have been constructed. These rules, handed down generation after generation to eager painters, are constantly being adapted to current scientific understandings and reflect ever-changing cultural aesthetics.
Freedom to Break the Rules
Even the artist that plans on working in a more expressive style of painting must first understand these laws and rules before deciding to break them. It is during the process of learning these rules that human personality traits begin to manifest themselves. Some individuals learn the rules, never question them, and devotedly follow them when painting. These rules become a Painting Bible, a sort of Constitution. Others may learn the rules, ask why, and defiantly break them. When successful, other artists may embrace them and add them to their Painting Bible.
Knowing if you have a rule-follower or a rule-breaker personality is helpful when it comes to asserting your artistic independence. The rule-following painter needs to be encouraged to take a chance and break a rule now and then. This can often lead to more personal artistic expression and exciting works. The rule-breaking painter, on the other hand, needs to be reminded that the rules are there for good reason. Breaking them just to be provocative doesn’t mean the resulting artwork will be worthwhile. Ask yourself which personality best describes you and challenge yourself to approach your next painting with a bit of the opposite mindset.
The One Painting Law You Should Never Break
Some may view the Bible and Constitution as fundamental documents to be literally interpreted. Others may think of them as evolving to reflect the current times. Whichever mindset you apply to the rules of painting, there is one painting law that can’t be broken. It is the one every painter should obey: It is the Archival Law. Simply stated, this law says: What you decide to do with pigment should be done with respect to the best archival standards. The rules of painting may be open to artistic interpretation but if the archival laws are not honored, the artwork will not survive for others to enjoy. And your artistic independence was for nothing. Viva le Artistic Citizen!
[pictured above] I used Terry Ludwig Pastels to arrange my Fourth of July message.
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