Following the Rules

A lot going on at the moment has got me thinking about rules. Especially with relatively new and evolving rules about masks and quarantine.


There are laws and there are regulations. Some are clear and without much room for interpretation, but some are more vague (such as masks only being required ‘when social distancing isn’t possible’). Either way, we often make are own interpretations, usually for our own benefit. When we think it won’t effect anyone else if we don’t quite follow the rules or ‘letter of the law’.


We’re basically saying that we can make a better judgement than whoever created the law or regulation. That it shouldn’t apply to us right now. That we can make a better assessment of the current circumstances. Which might be true. But are we then happy for everyone else to make their own assessment too? Or to choose which rules they follow and which they don’t? If I choose to break the speed limit because it’s convenient or because everybody else seems to be doing it, can I really then get annoyed because someone isn’t wearing a mask in my child’s playground?


I guess there’s an argument that we have plenty of experience of driving and assessing conditions, and very little previous experience of a global pandemic. Most of us think we’re good drivers, despite having only very basic training. And it seems like we’re already making similar assumptions about our knowledge of COVID-19, that we know what should help and what shouldn’t.


It’s made me realize that it’s usually not difficult to stick to the rules. At most it might be a moderate inconvenience. To stick to a speed limit, to actually wear the mask that’s already hanging around the neck, to stay home for a few days after a COVID test.


Fortunately or unfortunately, the opposite is usually true in making art. It’s easier and convenient to follow the rules. It’s safer, it works, it doesn’t require us to re-think or re-invent or take a risk. There really aren’t rules, but we still do the same as everyone else, copy the trendy styles, set up a Squarespace website, curate our Instagram or Pinterest.


What if we followed the rules of law and society but consistently broke ‘the norm’ in the way that we paint or draw or photograph or write poetry? There is a danger in art too that we start to think we know what’s best, what works. I was listening to a very experienced photographer recently saying that he doesn’t need anyone to assess his work, because he ‘knows’. Maybe, maybe not. We like to think we know. Usually, we don’t, not really.



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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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