I read a lot about creativity and artmaking from artists and books both past and present. But there are a few special people and books that have deeply influenced the artist I am today. One of those people, is Sister Corita Kent.
Sister Corita Kent was as you might could guess, a nun. But she was also an artist, activist, and teacher. She taught herself how to screen print in the early 1950’s and by the 60’s was the chair of the Art Department at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. The tiny college became an art world hotspot, hosting lectures by some of the biggest artists and designers of the time, like Alfred Hitchcock, Charles and Ray Eames, and Saul Bass.
She taught and made art throughout the 1960s, a time in the US fraught with social upheaval and chaos—much like today in some ways.
During that time, Corita created a list of 10 rules for her art students, posted in the studio. Over the decades since, it has spread through art departments around the world, inspiring and igniting budding artists everywhere.
I talk a lot in my essays about bucking the rules and doing things your own way—in fact, my newest class is about just that! But Corita’s rules are the kind rules I can get behind. They’re flexible rules—rules that bend and adapt to you and what you need in this moment.
These 10 rules delicately walk the fine line between acceptance and improvement. They support being kind to ourselves while also pushing ourselves. They’re rules that encourage exploration, mistakes, and self-compassion rather than rigidity, binary thinking, and self-criticism. They’re kind of not rules at all. Rule 10 even tells us to break the rules!
To Corita, rules are meant to change and evolve with what is needed by each individual and each moment. And even though the list ends by saying “there should be new rules next week,” these 10 rules of artmaking are still around today, inspiring artists everywhere.
I first stumbled on these rules when I was in Design School from a studiomate. It was one of those moments in life that crystallizes in your brain and puts you on a new path (similar to when I first discovered Miyazaki and Aubrey Beardsley). Something inside me sparked when I read these rules, pushing me to attempt to live them out and develop my own rules of artmaking.
And here I am today, writing about creativity and constantly evolving my philosophy of how to live as an artist. When I look back on this list of rules, it reminds me of the first moment I discovered them and how I felt that comforting joy of having found a kindred spirit.
Here is the original design of the rules and I’ve written them out below:
“Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.”–Sister Corita Kent
If you’ve never heard of Corita, I highly recommend you check her out—you can read more and watch a short biography video about her here.
Corita passed away in 1986, but I wonder what words of acceptance, exploration, and compassion she would have for us today?