There is a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso which says, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” I love the quote. I use the quote when I’m teaching color classes sometimes. I refer to it when having discussions about haircolor, and rules, and the laws of color. I even quote it in my teaching bio, because I believe strongly in the message.

Yet, if I’m being completely honest, what I really have is more like a LOVE-HATE relationship with the quote. Why is that?

Because when I see it, what I actually see is LEARN THE RULES. But when haircolorists hear it, what they generally seem to hear is BREAK THE RULES. And those are two very different things.

What people remember about Picasso is the abstract. The boundary pushing. The new and the innovative. The game changers. What they often forget is that Pablo Picasso, a childhood prodigy with an art professor father, who completed his first painting at the age of eight years old, already knew the rules and mastered that realm long before he ever started changing the status quo. All you have to do is Google “Picasso early work” and you’ll see some of the work that people don’t always associate with his name. The foundational work. The work where he learned (at a very young age) to understand color, linear perspective, depth, and how to use light and shadow to create the illusion of 3D. Picasso received formal training and spent years playing within the parameters that had been established. And then he began to experiment with the things he knew so completely and thoroughly.

For some reason, so many colorists want to jump to the end game before they ever learn the foundational skills. These are probably the same people who walk through a museum and say, “Oh, please. My kid could paint that!” or who try to tackle the Black Diamond ski hill (and fail miserably) before they ever learn to make a “pizza slice.”

As we often say in our business about colorists, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” Meaning, they don’t know enough to understand and recognize their own shortcomings. They can’t see them. Picasso’s work maybe looks elementary to people who don’t really have an understanding of art, or the art of his time period. As the painter Degas said, “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

The more we dig in and MASTER THE FUNDAMENTALS, the better and more exceptional our creative work will be. So I guess Picasso’s quote really should say, “Spend as much time as you can learning and mastering all of the rules, and then, when you actually do begin to experiment and create something uniquely yours, it will be all the more beautiful because of your foundational knowledge.” But that wouldn’t look as good on a t-shirt now, would it?


  • Sis says:

    Truman has an art class and has been drawing figures. He said his was very like Picasso. Jonah replied that he wasn’t good enough to be Picasso. But it was this very principle that he hasn’t had enough fundamental art experience to label his are Picassoesque. Truman does have an unusual style though. Funny that these things come up at the same time.

    • Hah! That is funny timing! Also interesting that Jonah would have the insight at a young age to see that it isn’t the same… yet. Many adults can’t even see that. Also, Truman should post some of his art. I would love to see it!