Rules: Why learn them if your intention is to break them?

by Emon Hassan on May 27, 2008

I was about to write a response to DPS blog about best photo tips. It turned into a post. This “learn all the rules, then break them” gets thrown around a lot. Funny thing about that is, those who are ‘rule-breaking’ types will never spend time learning them. What’s the point?

Learning the rules and breaking them will only give you a variation of the rule. This is especially true in Arts. If you have to learn rules to tell you how your thoughts should be expressed, then you’ve never been much of an artist.

My argument is not to be confused with learning or studying a favorite style. We learn other people’s styles all the time. We emulate them at first and then try to find our own voices – at least some do. If I love Martin Scorsese’s style of film-making and I emulate that style in my own, it doesn’t mean I’m learning the rules of film-making. So when I go off and find my own style it doesn’t mean I’m breaking any rules. If I study all the Beatles songs to understand how they wrote, I’m not necessarily learning any rules of songwriting; I’m not sure they ever cared for rules either.

My argument doesn’t gel with what I perceive as real rules. Rules in sports. International soccer rules: 45 minutes per half (not counting extra mins) and switch sides after half-time. You learn that and that’s it; it makes sense and it’s necessary if you want to play sports internationally. You can’t say “fuck it, my team will only play 42 mins.” Rules in music: C, E, and G notes played together forms the C Major chord. You can try and call a different combination of notes a C Major chord – good luck! In film: “Don’t say what you can show” That’s not a rule. That’s common sense to me; for some, just an opinion.

Rules made to be broken were never rules in the first place.

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