Rules and Art


There are two things alive in me right now…. what is art and what is knowledge. And you thought I was sitting here binge watching Ru Paul’s drag race… Well maybe later

Here is Manet’s painting the street singer from 1862.

I was having a discussion this morning and everyone was saying how difficult it was for them to use these colors in their own paintings. Manet was a painter of modern life, of boating and prostitutes, I guess that was modern life in France in the mid 1800s. Before that painters painted kings and popes and wealth patrons and of course biblical scenes. But they really were not painting prostitutes. After all, were prostitutes going to pay for the paintings -well maybe who knows.

Anyway this was a shift in art. Baudelaire, a friend of Manet, was also at that time writing about prostitutes and all sorts of things going on in Paris. He elevated the daily life of the seedy urban underbelly to art. Previously these topics were not considered poetic, that one could write poetry about them. Similarly one could not paint paintings about them, like Manet did.

I am reminded of contemporary-ish poets like Bernadette Mayer who elevated things like motherhood to poetry and wonder where is the painter doing that…

In any case what Manet does here, is also elevate the colors of street life to art. Paint is about color. Abstraction, which I paint, is about color and composition. What does a painting like this say to me? It says that these colors of urban life can be beautiful.

Manet broke the rules. But it is not like he sat down and was like, ok let me learn the rules and then let me break them. This is what you hear a lot these days… learn the rules before you break them. It is my impression that Manet actually saw beauty in the city, in these colors and was able to express that. Baudelaire heard poetry in urban life and wrote that.

It was not a cynical or calculated move to innovate. The innovation was that someone saw differently or experienced the world differently saw beauty and revealed the beauty of life that no one had seen before.

This is different from avant-garde art.

What has this to do with knowledge? Well knowledge is about the rules. I play guitar. I love it. I love not knowing a piece then practicing and then knowing it. This also sounds beautiful to me, as it does to generations of people, which is why these compositions still exist and people still learn and play them. This is also following the rules. I could then intentionally break the rules, mistune my strings or play out of order or something.But this is not what Manet is doing.

Maybe I hear something beautiful that I have never heard in a composition before maybe I want to play that, or maybe I am noodling around on the guitar and discover something beautiful. What do I have to know to create this? I don’t know