Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Hate Labels and Rules in Art

 Saint Francis and the Cranky Birds (detail), acrylic on door panel, 11" x 43".
I love black in artworks, and black outline has always figured strongly in my work. Thinking about it, there are so many reasons why I love it; coloring books were a favorite of mine as a kid, as well as all the old cartoons of the 1930's that hit television in the 60's. But as a young artist, I used to be very self-conscious about loving it and using it.
I hate labels in art.
I remember a teacher once dismissing an  ink-outlined watercolor as "just a tinted drawing". What?!? That one's still stuck in my craw.

 Clock Tower in Springtime (detail), acrylic on paper, (9' x 12").
When I did this work a few years back, I was not thinking of any particular artist, but looking at it now, I can see the influence of Van Gogh. But the artist who came to mind first when I was thinking about this post was Millet, whose works I love beyond any of the fine artists (ugh--there's a label!) of the past.

 Shepherdess Knitting, outside the Village of Barbizon. J.F. Millet. Pastel over black conte crayon.
Look at that beautiful black, overlaid with color. No, I'm not saying it is a coloring book or a cartoon--it's just beautiful, and it doesn't need any kind of label!

And I hate rules in art.  
 I remember a teacher once telling the class that "an artist should never use black." That stuck in my craw too, and it rankles me still.  It is amazing to me that, even after the art upheavals of the late 19th century, people still want to make rules for other artists. And I hear/read 'em all the time, and I'm sure you do too. Labels and rules make teaching and comprehending art easier, and I know I'm guilty of  same--I taught too long not to have made mistakes. But I wish I hadn't made them, and I'm sorry I did!

House with a Well at Gruchy. J. F. Millet. Pastel over black conte crayon heightened with pen and ink.

I'm painting what I want now, but I know that all the labels and "art rules" I heard as a student, and still hear in conversations, have affected my artwork, and my appreciation of other's work. And that makes me mad--because I wonder how many artists out there struggle with those ignorant, judgmental, Ruling Voices that do nothing but add stress to an already difficult-enough profession.

Oh well, enough, already.
Thanks for reading!


  1. Very well said. I collect artists that break rules on FB and otehr places because I need that frequent reminder that breaking rules is allowed. But still those voices telling us that only socalled fine art is good art keep whispering. Thank you so much for the reminder to dare do whatever my muse decides to inspire me to do day by day.

  2. One of the benefits of never attending art school is that I don't know the rules ... I'm still learning, and part of me desires to go back to school and pursue and art degree, but getting my masters in art seems daunting. Perhaps I should create my own masters degree and combine my interpreting career with my passion for painting ... now that would be something!
    The detail of the Saint Francis painting is wonderful, I think I could look at that all day ;)

    1. It is the great conundrum I suppose. Learning HOW to draw and create is awesome--the more I know about the foundations/techniques the more free I am to deviate from them when I want. But I guess that's different than rules and regs. So confusing.
      Creating a masters degree would be the ideal--best wishes for that!
      Thank you for your compliment on Saint Francis, and for your comment, Julie.

  3. Bravo, great post, art is so personal how can anyone judge what is right or wrong! Great blog post. :-)

    1. Thanks, Blu--it's a bit of a thinking aloud post! I'm wondering if the key to being a good teacher is guiding the person's progress without judging the product. Easier said than done.

  4. Chiming in on the subject...

    I'm a performing musician (pianist), holding a BM and an MM in piano performance and piano pedagogy, respectively. I can certainly relate to what you are saying about labels and rules in your art.

    I also teach, and my teaching can best be described as "traditional". One of my piano professors used to say that you must learn the rules [of the art/craft/trade] so that you could later know how to best break them.

    This didn't make sense to me at age 20, but now at age 54 it does. I now break/bend rules to suit how I want the music to sound -- mainly for the enjoyment of the person who matters most -- me. It's good that I no longer have to jump through the hoops of a degree program!

    There will always be the academic discussion in music (and probably also in art) about performance practices, i.e., whether music should be performed as it would have been performed in the time period in which the piece was composed.

    For example, Bach did not have a pedal on his piano. For that matter, he didn't even have a piano! Keyboard-wise, he had the harpsichord and the organ. So should modern day performers use pedal on the music of Bach? Purists say no, but others say it is more pleasing to the ear (yes, it is), and therefore modern audiences will enjoy it more -- and maybe buy more tickets to hear you play!

    Rules and labels...a lot to think about...
    Belinda Scholl
    Fort Worth, TX

    1. Thanks for your comment! It is a lot to think about--I should have thought about it more before I posted, haha! I was really reacting to some critical comments made by an artist that were narrow and rule-bound (and probably more about his fear than my art). My post should have been about that maybe? Interesting parallels to music--and about Bach; I did not know any of that!


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