Knowing enough to break the rules

I painted for the first time in many years today and it made me realize something about doing great work. Work that truly hits people and becomes a success.

It’s not about following the rules. It’s not about getting the perfect brush or burnt sienna colouring.

The act of doing great work requires just enough knowledge to break the rules. The rules of the style, the flair, the stroke. There’s always a conventional way of making something. Someone has done it before you. But the important part, the part of ingenuity, originality, creativity, is deviating from a pattern. Not doing the conventional. Deliberately straying from the path.

The hard part is knowing when you know enough. Some might say, when you’re an expert or a master. But by then you’re buried deep in convention. At that time you’re already so close to tradition that it might consume your work. How could you deviate at that point? You’ve never done it!

I think the trick is halfway between apprentice and journeyman. Finding the colours that might not work, and trying anyway. Painting a good picture, only to change the strokes halfway through to make it a great one.

There’s room for tradition, for rules and for order. But there’s just as much room for the exact opposite.

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