Do you know Mark Rothko? He was an abstract expressionist painter who spent much of his time painting very large canvases with rectangles of color.
Here's an image of one of his paintings, taken from Wikipedia:
I've been a fan of Rothko's work for years, but it wasn't until 2009 at the Tate gallery in London that I saw his paintings the way they were supposed to be seen. When Rothko allowed his works to be viewed, he was very careful to specify the type of lighting he preferred (usually dim), the height at which they were to be displayed on the wall (sometimes close to the floor, sometimes several feet up), what other works were allowed to be displayed alongside his work...he even specified at what distance he preferred his viewers to look at his work (sometimes 18 inches, which is very close considering his paintings are larger than any large screen TV I've ever seen.)
These mandates by the artist might seem out of line, and maybe some would say Rothko wasn't even a very good artist, considering all he ever painted were rectangles. When I saw the exhibit at the Tate, the first thing I felt at trying to view his higher-placed paintings in dim lighting was frustration. I could barely see them. They were just blurry spaces, almost like ghosts of color. Frankly, I didn't like them at all.
But, I found myself thinking of these works weeks after I left the gallery. Not only did I like them more, but I found myself wanting to see them again...or, more accurately to experience them again. Rothko wanted his work to be displayed in a particular way because he wanted to envelop us with his color, to create something that surrounds us in an intimate way. And, without me knowing that, I suddenly longed for it. Only a year later--last weekend to be exact--did I learn about what his intentions were.
Rothko, in my opinion, was a brilliant artist. To compare his work to those of Rembrandt or Renoir or Dali or Munch would be pointless because he had created something new, something unique. And, when he was faced with wanting to do something that no one else had done before, he didn't change his work to conform. Instead, he changed the viewers, he trained people to see his work.
All the rules that I talk about, all the tools I present here will only get you so far. And, if you follow them perfectly, chances are you will end up sounding like everyone else who has learned to follow the rules. (Granted, a lot of people won't even get that far.) You can change your work if you think you are improving it. But, don't change your work because the world hasn't learned how to see it. Teach us. What would you demand of your readers if you were Mark Rothko? What rules would you give us so that you didn't have to conform to rules yourself?