On Following Creativity “Rules”

Posted by on October 20, 2016

McKella Sawyer

Most creative mediums come with a set of “rules”, ways you’re supposed to do things. If you pick up any book about watercolor or acrylic painting, it will generally walk you through a certain sequence of steps to prepare your materials and start painting. There are rules and guidelines for composing artworks, for plotting stories, for writing dialogue, for composing music, etc.

I have great respect for rules. They can guide us to create interesting, pleasing works of art that make sense to the eyes and ears, that are easy for other people to receive. They’re there for a reason: to educate us and make our work better.

But. . .

(You knew there’d be a “but”, right?)

Rules are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can provide security and direction, especially if we’re paralyzed by possibility. Sometimes it’s easier to have boundaries to get us started.

On the other hand, rules can cause us to think in terms of “right” and “wrong” with creativity. They can make us afraid to try something else and can cause us to judge our work harshly. They can really suck the fun out of creativity because we lose our sense of play and instead, try to make something the “right” way. We take our creativity too seriously.

I used to really, really struggle with rules in creativity. This is why I changed my major from art to English in college, because the rules and formality took all the fun out of art. I remember creating perfect little squares with masking tape in one of my art classes and painting inside those perfect little lines for weeks on end. One night, I snapped and as soon as I got home, I got out my paint and a canvas and locked myself in my garage to splatter paint everywhere. I titled that painting “exploded parrot” because that’s exactly what it looked like. I needed to make a mess. The rules felt constricting.

Now, I like to think of rules as “suggestions”. I can choose to follow them or not. A rule is someone saying “this is what’s worked really well for other people, if you need a little help getting started, but it’s your art/writing/whatever and you can do whatever you want!”

At the end of the day, we’re all just humans making stuff and playing around with creativity. It’s all play. Even the super “serious” writers and artists and actors are just trying things and seeing what happens.

We’re all in this together, inspiring each other and bouncing ideas around. Creativity is supposed to be fun! That’s the whole point of making things.

Remember, you’re in charge. You can follow “rules”, or not. They’re just suggestions, after all.

Psst! Before you go, don’t forget to check out my art sale! Click the image to view over 30 items on sale for 50% off their original price. Help me clear room in my studio for my new work!

McKella Sawyer

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