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BIS Publishers Het Sieraad Postjesweg 1 1057 DT Amsterdam The Netherlands T (+) 31 (0)20-515 02 30 F (+) 31 (0)20-515 02 39 ISBN 978-90-6369-280-3 Copyright Š 2013 BIS Publishers Ridiculous Design Rules is a concept developed by Lemon Scented Tea and commissioned by Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion ( Edited by: Anneloes van Gaalen ( Designed by: Lilian van Dongen Torman ( All rights reserved. Printed in China.

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Never Touch a Painting When it’s Wet And 50 other Ridiculous Art Rules

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Design isn’t art


There is no such thing as bad art




The rule of thirds


4 Name your baby 14 5 Minimalism is dead 16 6

Turn it upside down



“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”



Art is religion



Make it new



Art can change the world



“It is better to be good than to be original.”


12 Sign your work 32 13

“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.”



The medium is the message



Artists are born, not made



Art for art’s sake


17 Size matters 44 18 Photography isn’t art 46 19

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”



Mistakes don’t make art



“All art is but an imitation of nature.’



You must suffer for your art



Your kid could not paint that


24 Keep it real 62 25 Learn to draw 64 26

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Never use black in paintings


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All art is political



Always write an artist statement



Art is a man’s game



“If your image doesn’t work, put a dog in it.”



“What garlic is to food, insanity is to art.”



All color is relative



Walls should be white


34 Find your muse 84 35

“Never touch a painting when it’s wet.”



Museums of art are our new churches



Art is a good investment


38 Know your light 94 39

God is in the detail



“There is no abstract art.”



Produce your own work


42 Make it pretty 106 43

The best artist is a dead artist



Art has to push boundaries



Put everything in perspective


46 Ignore the critics 116 47 Create to sell 118 48

“Can’t kills creativity!”


49 Less is more 122 50

“A portrait is not a likeness.”


51 Break the rules 128

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Art rules the world. But what about the rules of art? In our current day and age, the general consensus seems to be that creativity, divine inspiration and art can never be bound by man-made rules or constrictions. Artists need to push the envelope, be ahead of the curve, and if there are any rules out there it is the artist’s prerogative, if not God-given right, to break them. However, up to the early 20th century, artists did not have the complete artistic freedom that they are believed to enjoy today. They were bound by rules of art, of decency and indeed of taste. This books contains 51 art rules. From the age-old ‘Rule of Thirds’ to modern mantra’s like ‘Design isn’t art.’ Myths, like the one of the struggling artist, are dispelled, while other rules are merely confirmed with the help of quotes by artists, theorists and art enthusiasts. Pompous artspeak is taken head on, such as that from our money-hungry art dealers and the ever-so-prevalent art snobs.

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All rules are accompanied by an image that either negates or supports the rule. The aim is not to list all the rules that artists or art aficionados need to adhere to. We’re also not really interested in taking any side in the rules debate. Our aim is simply to enlighten and entertain. Preferably in equal measure. Ridiculous Art Rules is the eighth and final book in a series that focuses on rules that people working in the creative industry – graphic designers, fashion designers, typographers, filmmakers and photographers – can either rely on, or ignore altogether. For more information, visit our website:

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There is no such thing as bad art, just as there is no such thing as good art. There is art. To quote renowned French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968): “Art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way as a bad emotion is still an emotion.”

“There is no such thing as an amateur artist as different from a professional artist. There is only good art and bad art.” Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), French artist

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“If you can’t tell a good Picasso from a weak one or a good Hirst from a lazy one, your collecting days are going to provide you limited satisfaction.” Charles Saatchi (1943), British advertising executive and art collector “Great art – or good art – is when you look at it, experience it and it stays in your mind. I don’t think conceptual art and traditional art are all that different. There’s boring conceptual art and there’s boring traditional art. Great art is if you can’t stop thinking about it, then it becomes a memory.” Damien Hirst (1965), British artist

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The rule of thirds Many an artist has used this composition guideline to create more balanced, dynamic and aestheticallypleasing work. The rule first seems to appear in ‘Remarks on Rural Scenery’ by British artist and engraver John Thomas Smith back in 1797. The rule of thirds remains an important guideline in both painting and photography although it has always had stiff competition from the golden mean.

“I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general, by a similar scheme of proportion; for example, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two: Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third

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of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives. This rule would likewise apply in breaking a length of wall, or any other too great continuation of line that it may be found necessary to break by crossing or hiding it with some other object : In short, in applying this invention, generally speaking, or to any other case, whether of light, shade, form, or color, I have found the ratio of about two thirds to one third, or of one to two, a much better and more harmonizing proportion, than the precise formal half, the two-farextending four-fifths - and, in short, than any other proportion whatever.” John Thomas Smith (1766–1833), British artist and engraver “To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.” Edward Weston (1886-1958), American photographer

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The battle cry of the Modernist movement, courtesy of American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972).

“Do not strive to be a modern artist: it’s the one thing unfortunately you can’t help being.” Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), Spanish artist “The impulse of modern art is the desire to destroy beauty.” Barnett Newman (1905-1970), American artist

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“Every generation renews itself in its own way; there’s always a reaction against whatever is standard.” Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), American artist

“New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements... the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.” Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), American artist

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“Make it new is the message not just of modern art but of modern consumerism, of which modern art is largely a mirror image.” Christopher Lasch (1932-1994), American historian

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Art for art’s sake rule


While the exact origin of the infamous ‘l’art pour l’art’ sentence is debated, it’s clear that the concept gained momentum in the 19th century and will be forever linked to the Aesthetic Movement.

“Art should be independent of all claptrap — should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like.” James Whistler (1834-1903), American artist

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“The love of art for art’s sake.” Walter Pater (1839-1894), British writer and critic “Perhaps art shouldn’t be ‘for art’s sake,’ one of the most misunderstood, unambitious and sterile of all aesthetic slogans: why couldn’t art be, as it was in religious eras, more explicitly for something?” Alain de Botton (1969), British philosopher

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You must suffer for your art 22 rule

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59 In a 2012 column titled “Why I hate the myth of the suffering artist” Scottish writer A.L. Kennedy (1965) tries to debunk the widespread and carefully-cultivated myth that artists need to suffer for their art. According to Kennedy “it is absurd and insulting to assume artists are assisted by despair or hunger in a way that, say, plumbers are not.” Be that as it may, the list of troubled, angst-ridden artists is impressively long.* * Just check out rule number 31 “What garlic is to food, insanity is to art”

“No one but myself knows the anxiety I go through and the trouble I give myself to finish paintings which do not satisfy me and seem to please so very few others.” Claude Monet (1840-1926), French artist “I am a great artist and I know it. The reason I am great is because of all the suffering I have done.” Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), French artist

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“It is very probable that I shall have to suffer a great deal yet. And to tell the honest truth, this does not suit me at all, for under no circumstances do I long for a martyr’s career.” Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch artist “They will not get it into their heads that these paintings were created in all seriousness and in suffering, that they are the products of sleepless nights, that they have cost me blood and weakened my nerves.” Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Norwegian artist “The artist is not a ‘Sunday child’ for whom everything immediately succeeds. He does not have the right to live without duty. The task that is assigned to him is painful, it is a heavy cross for him to bear.” Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Russian-French artist “It’s my misery that I have to paint this kind of painting, it’s your misery that you have to love it, and the price of the misery is thirteen hundred and fifty dollars.” Mark Rothko (1903-1970), American painter

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Your kid could not paint that A cliché response to works of contemporary art by ill-informed onlookers. Let’s put this chestnut to rest once and for all: just because something looks easy / childlike / simple doesn’t mean it is.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish artist



“The Cobra group started new, and first of all we threw away all these things we had known and started afresh, like a child – fresh and new. Sometimes my works look very childish, or childlike, schizophrenic or stupid, you know. But that was the good thing for me. Because, for me, the material is the paint itself. The paint expresses itself. In the mass of paint, I find my imagination and go on to paint it.” Karel Appel (1921-2006), Dutch artist “Art is childish and childlike.” Damien Hirst (1965), British artist

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Walls should be white rule


Most (modern) art galleries and museums favor the “less is more” approach to designing the interior. The “blank canvas look” consisting of plenty of bare floor space and the ubiquitous white walls is meant to keep the eyes of the viewers where they belong: on the artwork. Interestingly, in recent years there has been a move away from starkwhite interiors with refurbished museums the world over opting for vibrant color schemes instead.

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“White kills all painting apart from 20th century and contemporary art. When you put an Academic or an Impressionist painting against a white background, the radiance of the white, its indeterminate aura around the work, prevents the sometimes very subtle contrast of values from being revealed. In my view, white is the enemy of painting.” Guy Cogeval (1955), French curator and president of Musée d’Orsay

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“Art is not interior decoration. What I really want is to be able to see the painting, appropriately lit and without distractions. The best wall color is drab – a dreary color that the gallery-goer does not even notice. The colors you should remember are those of the paintings.� Jonathan Jones, British journalist and art critic

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Know your light From Rembrandt’s masterful use of light and dark contrasts to Flavin’s fluorescent light installations, light – or the lack of – is an important tool in the artist’s toolkit, and for some a medium in and of itself.

“I see only forms that are lit up and forms that are not. There is only light and shadow.” Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), Spanish artist

“Light is a thing that cannot be reproduced, but must be represented by something else – by color.” Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), French artist “Light is my inspiration, my paint and brush. It is as vital as the model herself. Profoundly significant, it caresses the essential superlative curves and lines. Light I acknowledge as the energy upon which all life on this planet depends.” Ruth Bernhard (1905-2006), German-born American photographer “One might not think of light as a matter of fact, but I do. And it is, as I said, as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find.” Dan Flavin (1933-1996), American artist

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51 You must first learn to color inside the lines, before you can begin to think outside the box.

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Never Touch a Painting When It's Wet and 50 other Ridiculous Art Rules  

Art rules the world. But what about the rules of art? In our current day and age, the general consensus seems to be that creativity, divine...

Never Touch a Painting When It's Wet and 50 other Ridiculous Art Rules  

Art rules the world. But what about the rules of art? In our current day and age, the general consensus seems to be that creativity, divine...