Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tools Not Rules!

Back in school some teacher would invariably remind us when we did something wrong that "you had to learn the rules before you could break them."

So here's a wacky thought. What if there was something wrong with this idea of having to learn the rules before you could break them? What if there were terrible consequences when the whole thing played out and then it was too late?

What if those who promote this educational philosophy unwittingly or by design end up stealing the innocence of those to whom they propose to teach? Could they truly believe that their students can only learn and grow by first learning what are called the rules?

Could they then believe that their students could break the rules once they had learned them so that they might reconnect to their creative self, their individual voice, and fulfill their need to invent and define and discover and break out for themselves?

Did they foresee that breaking the rules would be the inevitable outcome to achieve this, thereby making rule breakers of these students? Did they foresee the outcome; that these students who put their trust in them would have indeed lost their innocence and become rule breakers?

Of course if we didn't know the rules we couldn't break them. Never mind that "rules were made to be broken." Furthermore there are clearly situations where knowing the rules is essential. Baseball for example.

Most of the time we want to learn the rules. We need to learn the rules. That's part of the problem. We hate getting caught not knowing the rules! We want to know what's going on. Otherwise we feel powerless; we feel at a disadvantage! This is natural. This world keeps us in the dark enough as it is. How many times has each one of us found ourselves being punished because we violated some unwritten rule?

But everything in life is not so simple. The rules have been made up as we've been going along. The rules are made up by those in charge. They don't just reflect the values of those in charge, they are the values of those in charge! Let's face it: the rules are what matter!

We're talking about the whole ball of wax, of course, but in this context we're talking about the creative: writing, music, art. Is there a downside to the rules, and learning them? Shouldn't we be rethinking this one?

Could the "learn the rules" philosophy be an intentional double bind designed to preserve and protect the rules, and the power of the rule makers? To protect their values?

Again, if we buy into this wellworn authoritarian commandment that is presented as a philosophical and educational truth, then there can be just two outcomes, we follow the rules or we break them. Buried inside this is the idea that once we learn the rules we can't or won't or wouldn't even want to break the rules! Or, by doing so we are threatened with the idea of something negative: becoming rule breakers.

Just how deeply insidious is this, even creepy? Doesn't it remind us of the clever lawyer that when some claim is struck from the record still knows that the jury has heard it, and that the damage is done? When we learn the rules the damage is done.

What this means is that we can never be free. It is no surprise then that most of the great artists were either bad students or not students at all. The double bind: be a good student and end up a bad artist! Be a bad student and be punished!

And now we get down to it! Punishment! Isn't punishment all around us? Every day? Every step? From the cradle to the grave? Isn't it learn the rules or be punished? Break the rules and be punished?

Did whoever said life is suffering probably mean life is punishment? Isn't it true that if they get you, teach you the rules, then you will do their work for for them; you will either follow the rules or punish yourself with guilt for breaking them? Isn't this really the end of innocence? The end of creativity as an innocent act? Isn't this what alienates the artist and the arts from the rest of society? Isn't this why artists have to be bad and seen and treated as bad? Because they broke the rules when everyone else followed them?









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1 comment:

njartist said...

The rules are codified statements separated from the original apprehended why and how: an artist learns to see lines and angles in order to draw objects in space; this understanding is codified for the benefit of his students and successors who will not experience the understanding of the original apprehension.

Another example: Napoleon had an engineer named Gaspard Monge who grasped that he could determine the nature or an object from a view or views (I am bungling the description; but the point is he grasped the form of an object intellectually before he wrote his treatises). The resulting discipline became "descriptive geometry"; yet how many of those who came after him had the ability to make the initial intellectual comprehension?

Most art instructors do not understand the "why" - the nature - of what they do; hence, they can only teach the rules and pacify the inquiring student.