This week I was teaching art to a lady in one of my adult groups. She was working on the background to a painting. Suddenly she asked hesitantly – “Is it alright if I turn the paper to make it easier to reach this part?” I was so astonished that I laughed and she immediately said ” No, it isn’t allowed, is it?” I assured her that she could do whatever she liked with the paper but it started me thinking about rules.
Rules! I never have a student who does not come in to class with at least one rule firmly in their head: Never use a ruler! Never use an eraser! Always put a wash across your paper! Don’t smudge pencil with your finger! Don’t outline! Do outline! My teacher said . . . My teacher told me . . . My teacher won’t let us . . .
As I say to them: all these rules may be useful under certain circumstances, but no way are they hard and fast laws that must always be obeyed. Sometimes it is essential to draw with a ruler – very silly not to use one if you need a really straight line! An eraser can be a very useful drawing tool and if you want to get rid of a mistake or something you don’t like, well why on earth not?
Now this may seem amusing but actually it is very harmful. How many times do I ask a student – “Why have you done it like that?” only to discover that it’s because of something they were once told they shouldn’t do. Someone or something has implanted a fixed idea in their head and that fixed idea is stopping them from looking, stopping them from thinking, stopping them from doing.
For a simple example, imagine someone who has a fixed idea that you can only cook something at a certain temperature. Are they going to follow a recipe that tells them to do it on another setting? Very unlikely, I can tell you!
Why not see if you have any rules in your head that perhaps do not apply across the board? Then, I plead with you, try not to give such rules and fixed ideas to your children! Obviously I am not talking about rules like ‘don’t tease the cat’ etc. But adults are the authority in a young person’s life and the child has no experience against which they can test a ‘rule’. This is especially true in the field of ‘learning’. Learning implies that you do not know. So therefore you are dependent on what others tell you. So you mustn’t think for yourself!
On the other hand we have to apply the same rule to the rule ‘All Rules are meant to be broken’! No they are not! Some are, sometimes. But not every rule, every time!
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Since retiring from full-time teaching Art and English and her post as Assistant Head and Sixth Form Tutor, Cathy Bird has concentrated on her painting and now runs art courses and sessions at her own studios in Kent. She also tutors students at all levels in Literacy, Comprehension and Essay-writing.