Art Rules

Art Rules

Our personal art history has inevitably filled us with Art Rules,  some helpful, some not so much.

A rule that my siblings subconsciously developed was that each art could only belong to one of us. There could be only one dancer, one writer, one artist, one musician, one photographer. What the heck?! This isn’t Highlander! There can be more than one! All of us are multi-passionate creatives and need to explore and express ourselves through whichever art(s) call our names. My brother and sisters and I have talked about it and have consciously decided to let this particular “rule” go.

A lot of the Art Rules that we’ve made up or absorbed over time live in our unconscious. It takes a little nudging (from inside or outside) for them to reveal themselves. Once we become aware of them, we can choose whether to own them or release them.

I had an unconscious Art Rule rear its head in a mixed media class I was taking. The instructor told us to use tracing paper to create our figures.

My first reaction was “You can do that?”

My second reaction was, “You can’t do that!”

In my mind, using tracing paper was cheating. Where did I get that rule? Clearly that wasn’t a rule for the teacher. As a professional artist, she used tracing paper as a tool.

I decided to examine this rule and discovered the belief that fueled it was that if you trace a figure, you won’t learn to draw a figure.

Is that true?

Only one way to find out! I bought some tracing paper and started tracing figures. The first thing I noticed was that it was fun! I could spend hours tracing and that alone would be a gift to my creative practice. Secondly, I could literally feel the learning.I  experienced the curve of a shoulder. I felt the proportion of the body. Tracing bypassed my brain and let my body gain the experience and for a visual-art-fearful kinesthetic learner like me, that was perfect!

I am officially adopting the new rule that tracing paper is an art tool.

What Art Rules are you living by? Here are a few to look at. See if any (or all) of them are familiar.

Art Rules

  • Real art takes time. (I got this one from my mom)
  • Real art is totally original. It must spring fully formed exclusively from your own heart and mind.
  • Each art form can only belong to one member of the family.
  • You have to be born with talent.
  • I can’t ______ (Fill in the blank e.g. dance, sing, write, draw, sew, bake…)
  • Art is a hobby.
  • You can’t make a living as an artist.
  • You’re only a real artist if someone buys your work.
  • If it’s been done, why bother?
  • If someone else does it better, why bother?
  • Creating art is a struggle.
  • Creating art should be easy.
  • To be great, you have to pursue one art exclusively.
  • You need formal training.
  • Formal training will ruin you.
  • Art has to _______ in order to be taken seriously.
  • It’s too late for me to pursue my art
  • Artists have to suffer in order to be great.
  • Artists are the “cool kids”.

Clearing the rules that aren’t supporting us creatively is powerful and important work – for ourselves and for the others we impact in our lives. We will pass along the rules that we are living, whether we know it or not. Let’s make sure that we pass on what we truly believe in.

Please share your art rules in the comments. Let us know which ones you believe in and which ones you are ready to break!


  1. Kris Bilyeu says:

    I remember when I was 12 or so that I wanted to paint railroad tracks across my ceiling. Dad said no. So I countered with foot prints instead. Still a no. I felt my creativity crushed flat and it stayed flat for years and years. When I was in my 50’s I decided that I was going to paint whatever I wanted —- I ended up with palm fronds on a bathroom ceiling and kitchen wall and 3 foot tall waves in another bathroom, complete with glitter on the waves so that when I took a candle-lit bath, they glistened!! I LOVED those rooms. The rule that I had listened to was that someone older and “wiser” knew what was best — this was “true” then and it could be true now if I let the older, “wiser” critical parent within me over-rule the kid who is always wanting to create. Now my inner child had grand daughters to play with or I can happily create for hours and hours by myself too. A new motto for me now is …when in doubt, let your inner child out!!

  2. jodylund says:

    I think I have likely embraced all of those. I was the only one in my family who likes to paint and draw but I am primarily drawn to textiles. My mom was a seamstress and knitter, (both of which I do but in a different way to her) and so I learned by watching her. When I married and started a family I turned to quilting and then in a random experience learned how to do Batik. I have been hooked on altering fabric ever since. That is my true passion. My day job is so far from all the above that I feel disconnected from my need to create. I am slowly starting to work creatively again after a hiatus caused by personal upheaval and 5 moves in a fairly short time, but being so exhausted at the end of the work day makes this a challenge. I am also working hard to incorporate more creativity into the weekends and worrying less about the weekend chores that seem to eat up so much time and energy. It will work out in the end, so far so good.

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