Living the Answers: Rules

You have to know the rules in order to break the rules.

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso is world-renowned for dramatically subverting the established conventions of Western European art. By doing away with classical proportions, perspective, and color he incited and spearheaded a brand new artistic style and movement (Cubism) as well as revolutionized sculpture, collage, and printmaking. But he did not pick up a paintbrush one day, draw two eyes and a mouth on the same side of the face, and change the world. His teacher put a model foot in front of him and made him draw it, from the same angle, over and over hundreds of times, and young Pablo repeated this exercise incessantly. By the time he was done, he  could draw the classical human and paint classical compositions as well as any other European master, and many of his early works look conventional (see above, below). Only then, after he had fully mastered what came before in the artistic tradition, did he revolutionize European art (see above, top).

Before the world will take you seriously, you have to take it seriously, because it came first. This does not mean we have to be slaves to tradition and authority for its own sake. But the world–history, society, the artistic, scientific, and intellectual traditions–came first. They are the product of centuries of thought and work and dedication by millions of people whose lives came before ours. It does not have anything to prove to us, but we to it. We have an obligation to take the world seriously, and learn what we can from it and understand why things are the way they are–because there might be a good reason for them to be that way–before we reject it or move past it. Progress comes from breaking the rules, but before we break them we have to know them.

However, this idea has more mundane applications. Want to play hooky one day? Fulfill your responsibilities at first, show that you care and will put in the work, then don’t show up. You can usually break the rules if you break them gracefully–in fact, sometimes people admire a graceful rule-bender.

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