Claude Debussy makes a good point in his quote “Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” How true this is. But we need to discuss this a bit. It can be misleading; never take anything for face value without giving it thought and study.
First off, we should probably define the word “rules”. My opinion, the term “rules” really don’t apply to art. The normal definition of rules: one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. So, there are many different ways this can go. I view rules also as perimeters. I think perimeters are better because it gives flex room. Flex room will allow for mistakes and space to learn and correct, but keep you within the boundaries. This is one of the guiding principles of my teaching. Give perimeters and set them free. Give them the materials, teach how to use those tools and what is expected, and let them run with it. It is amazing what they can do if given that flex room. Even the troubled kids like to know you have at least an ounce of trust in what they can do. No one wants to live inhibited in a box of rules. BUT …. the perimeters still have to be in place, some negotiable some not. This should be made clear.
In art we have “rules” so to speak. The term “rules” is used conversely here. Guidelines for success sounds better to me. These guidelines can be defined as the elements and principles of design/art. Some teachers don’t like to teach these. I preview them with big charts on my walls but don’t harp on them every day. When we have an assignment, I go back to the chart and point out, or have students point out, which elements and principles we are using. Here is what the high-fluting educators like to hear … 21st century skills; thinking outside the box. The kids love the challenge of figuring out from the assignment which perimeters we are using, they also love the pencil they get for a right answer! LOL So art doesn’t have to have rules per se, but it should have perimeters and guidelines to help navigate those perimeters.
You may find in your own work you fall back to these perimeters when planning a piece. There is so much to think of: composition, balance, color, and perspective to name a few and already we are working with the elements AND principles. So as a seasoned artist you probably won’t keep a list of the elements and principles at hand but will know and use them innately from experience. Some artists are successful despite these perimeters, they never learn them and don’t care to. This is ok. Whatever works best for you is what you should do. But think of it as part of your education and education always makes us better people in whatever we do. Use them as guides not necessarily as rules. Personally speaking, I couldn’t produce the type of artwork I do without them.
Being artists in all of the arts is an invitation to bend the rules or perimeters. We can do this and maintain a healthy artistic status; it’s our artistic license to do this. I would venture to say no new and revolutionary way of making art was ever invented following the perimeters closely. You have to jump over the ropes and take a chance. When I talk here about perimeters, I’m referring to teaching young students. If you have children of your own you know what I mean here. If you don’t have those perimeters, you get what you create in the end. Even as adults we need perimeters but not necessarily in the art realm. Be adventuresome and just do it!
So, I guess Debussy was right. When you think about and analyze this statement. Teach the young un’s and you take the chances but don’t inhibit their flight.