Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rules or Just Common Decency

The sidewalks were surrounded by perfectly round azalea clumps and long cast shadows made by tall trees. I was drawn to these sprawling pink and white scrubby ones in the shade instead. "Shady Azaleas," 8x10, plein air.

We learn lots of rules throughout our formative years. We learn not to bite the other kids on the playground; to close the refrigerator door; and on which side of the road to drive. We also learn common decency.  My mama would've said, "Learn to mind your manners." These are things like it's nice to hold the door when someone is coming through behind you; it isn't polite to talk with your mouth full; and to say 'please,' and 'thank you.' It stands to reason then, that as beginning artists the first things we want to learn are the rules for making a good painting. But later, even after we have a good understanding of these rules, we feel we have to remind ourselves of them in every painting we do.

A friend whose work I am totally ga-ga for said recently, "The only rules you need to know, are the ones that you don't have to remember." That is so true. Perhaps we need to consider moving beyond "the rules," and practice plain 'ol "common decency."

I believe that sometimes knowing all these rules can inhibit our growth and creativity. I remember a time when every painting I made had a focal point in that sweet 2/3 spot (modified golden mean); my landscape planes followed the same set of value rules we all learn (sun, ground, slants, uprights from lightest to darkest in that order); there was a nice curving "s" shape in the foreground; my distant hills were painted violet and everything in the foreground was warmer by comparison.  My husband calls it my, "tree on left" phase. So, what did I do??? I switched to still life. And, you guessed it, every still life I set up and painted all looked the same too.

Exploring the rules many times over, and understanding the value in knowing them in the first place, now leads me to challenge them as much as possible.  The more I look at paintings that I find truly amazing, the fewer rules I see.  These are the works of artists such as T. Allen Lawson, Quang Ho, and others who are blazing the trail for the rest of us "rebels" to follow. It is as if these artists just have the common decency to do what is right. They have outgrown the elementary stage of their careers and moved on to the enjoyment part of it. I don't know about you, but I am ready for that! After all, I have pretty good manners for the most part. And honestly, when was the last time you actually had to remind yourself not to bite your friends?