Not too long ago I finished reading a novel called The Geometry of Sisters, by Luanne Rice. In many ways, it was your typical soap operatic family drama complete with decades-old secrets, runaway children, and lost loves, all set in posh Newport, Rhode Island. Which is to say, I enjoyed it in that familiar way I enjoy all such drama that the chic lit genre so loyally delivers.
The most interesting parts, to me, were about Katherine, an artist and the estranged older sister of the heroine. Of Katherine's experience at The Rhode Island Institute of Design, Rice writes, "Art school and ironworking opened brand-new worlds for her. She met other people like herself, independent contractors and artists who didn't do anything automatically, who questioned their parents' ways, who broke free of anything traditional, who went looking for their own answers, who thought rules were for people who needed to be told what to do. Artists followed their own compulsions and didn't always know why they did what they did" (32-22). I don't pretend to have a lot in common with Katherine. She was an ironworker, a woman whose material was "hard and sharp" and caused her to "take on these qualities herself." She wore only black, favoring a tuxedo jacket for dress-up, and reportedly never cried. Nevertheless, I was struck by her, or more particularly, by Rice's portrayal of her and of artists in general. I never thought about it in so many words, but the idea that artists think of rules as being reserved for people who need to be told what to do is an exciting and jarring one, and in many cases holds true. On a personal note, I distinctly remember screaming my head off in preschool and being put in the corner because I wanted to do my art projects my way instead of following the teacher's instructions. I didn't understand why everyone's project had to turn out the same. In the years to come I somehow ended up being one of those irritatingly well-behaved students, my rebellion seemingly quashed. But only on the outside. Even now, I like to think that I haven't forgotten how to color outside the lines.