Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Can you really learn the rules in order to break them?

I have often heard people explain their interest in PAFA as being based on "learning the rules in order to break them", or somewhat differently, "if you learn the rules, then you can break them".  However, I think this is more often a pre-emptory comment meant to stave off the guilty conscious of someone who desires traditional training, while also wanting to appear poised to join the avant gard (whatever that is).  Furthermore... to think that one has to start with classical training in order to break rules, is to say that classical training is superior, in as much as it characterizes other artistic ideas (broken rules) as being the rebellious children of the classical mother.

I don't think that one learns rules in order to break them, or that rule breaking is an inevitable consequence of learning rules. I think that one learns rules in order to achieve some result. People come to PAFA in order to learn certain rules (ideas, techniques, or whatever you want to call them) in order to achieve some form of realist imagery. There's nothing wrong with that. But those rules do not contain within themselves the ability or rationale to be broken. Rules never do.

Rule breaking is the result of  learning to break rules. One doesn't learn to break rules all at once, nor as the result of classical training. Rule breaking is an attitude that evolves in some people but not others.... It requires the kind of rebellious and curious mindset that is usually forged in childhood.... it combines intelligence, motivation, temperament, and some goal to be achieved. Rule breaking is an attitude usually NOT held by the generally conservative artists that desire to learn classical rules of art at places such as PAFA.

It only makes sense. The rules of realism are hard won, and they can only be gained if one really desires to achieve the final result of a realist image. If one does indeed "learn the rules", then it seems unlikely that one would then break them. What would be the point? Why would one work so hard to paint academic figure, and desire to do so, and then turn around and reject it? But even if this did happen, how would the artist go about breaking them? After all, the learning of the rules does not teach you anything about breaking them.

It is common for Pafa students to look down their noses at art schools that they deem to be "conceptual"... because those schools don't teach any "skills". However, what they probably do teach are the more conceptual skills of being critical, questioning rules, and striving to be original. These are exactly the types of mindsets that will allow for rule breaking, but these are also the kinds of skills Pafa doesn't seem to engage in.

In the end, I could even ask what would "breaking rules" mean?

If I broke the rules of algebra, it wouldn't result in a new mathematical system with new answers... it would simply mean that my algebraic formulas no longer worked.  A broken rules is useless. What one needs isn't to break a rule, but to find a different "working" rule. I think it's better to not break a perfectly fine set of rules (such as the rules of realism), but instead to simply find the rules that suit you best.

I don't get the impression the PAFA is really about breaking rules, or that any such attitude is taught, fostered, or otherwise part of the general purpose of the place. One can bring a critical eye to what they learn, but I don't think the institution instills it.

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