As an artist, you’re obsessed with honing your craft. You’ve logged countless hours studying composition and technique. You’ve taken classes, learning the rulebook of how to properly execute a photograph. You’ve ventured out on your own, putting the rules to the test about knowing exactly how to avoid backlighting, how to frame a picture according to the rules properly, and how to relax your subject.
Once you’ve perfected and learned the rules, there comes a moment for something else: it’s time to break those rules.
Artists innovate, they change, and they shatter conventions. Iconoclasts break what was come before to find new territory. While rules can be important for beginners and to return to as guiding principles, there comes a time in an artist’s development when they must break the rules and examine the pieces.
Rule-breaking is okay and even encouraged. By looking to the past and seeing great artists who’ve defined their voice by breaking the rules, you can be inspired to venture out of your comfort zone to find something new.
For instance, most photographers work with a variety of lenses based on the shot they’re trying to create. It’s a time-honored rule to adjust your lense in this way. But Henri Cartier-Bresson limited himself to one 50mm lens, and he’s become known for it. With this single lens, he was able to create beautiful photography because that rule-breaking constraint opened up a source of creativity within his approach. What rule can you break to make yourself more creative? What could you do with only one lens? One subject? One location?
Another rule that was broken by a now-famous photographer involved equipment as well. An accepted rule is that expensive, state-of-the-art camera equipment leads to the best photography. But Chase Jarvis, author of “The Best Camera is the One That’s With You,” shoots only using his iPhone. With it, he’s created some of the most beautiful images of the past decade. So if you already shoot on your iPhone, but don’t think those photographs are worthy as art, you’re wrong. Rules about equipment can be broken to find unexpected and new ways to create art with the world around us. Go on a walk with just your iPhone and see what you can create.
Another informal rule of photography is related to composition. It’s called the rule of thirds and is a popular way to frame your subject. The frame is split into thirds, and your subject should be on one of those lines. Breaking that rule is okay. Center your subject. Put them in a corner. Many incredibly beautiful photographs violate this rule. Sire it can be helpful to use a majority of the time; if you’re shooting a wedding, it can be valuable to stick closer to the rulebook, but great photographs come from breaking the rules all the time.
Break to fix
Some of the greatest advancements in art come from breaking the traditional rules that have solidified over time. While tradition can be important, it can also weigh you down. So take a moment to make a list of the informal and formal “rules” you follow in your own artistic practice. What are certain things you always do, out of habit or a sense of obligation/
Over the coming weeks, work to break each of those rules and see what happens actively. Do you discover a new approach? Open yourself up creatively? Or find that certain rules work for you to keep as guidelines. By examining the conscious and unconscious rules you follow as an artist and breaking them, you’ll expand and mature your artistic practice.
We can’t wait to see what you create.