What’s your rut?

You may have heard of the Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway, built during WWII to connect Alaska with “the lower forty-eight.” The whole thing is paved now, but for a long time, stretches of the road were pretty rough and muddy, which meant it had severe ruts. Back in the 1960s there was a sign upon entering Alaska that said:

“Choose your rut carefully — you will be in it for the next 200 miles.”
It can be difficult to get your tires out of a muddy rut. You can keep going forward (sometimes), but you won’t be able to turn to the left or the right. And if the rut goes off the road, well, so will your vehicle.

So, if it is the 1960s and you are driving to Alaska, you need to choose your rut carefully. Just a tip for all you time-travelers in Deloreans.

The same is true of artists and their work.

Sometimes ruts are good.

They give you structure and may actually make things easier. This usually comes out as a theme or a technique.

When you think of Monet’s paintings, what comes to mind? Probably his paintings of the Cathedral at Rouen, or the water lilies. His art was ostensibly an exploration of light and color, and by sticking to a handful of subjects he was able to really explore those things that interested him.

More examples of artist’s ruts

In the 20th Century we saw a number of artists emerge with some pretty regular themes: It’s pretty clear to me that these “ruts” gave structure to these artists’ careers. A framework, if you will. (They had philosophical frameworks, but that’s a different discussion.)

A social media example

On Instagram, you can see the “peak” themed photos Matthew Smith has been taking for some time now. The idea is a “peak” or a triangle with a base at the bottom of the frame and a peak at the center of the photo. For his 192nd peak, someone asked why he did so many, and he said he needed something consistent.

A Warning

Lori Woodward Simmons warned on Fine Art Views that sometimes your rut can get boring and you can lose your passion for the very thing that has made your career. It nearly destroyed Thomas Kinkade. Love him or hate him, we all know how well he did with his famous landscapes.


Looking back, I’m probably fortunate that my “Nashville365” paintings didn’t catch on. I got bored with them about 30 paintings in. I’ve also gotten away from the bridges I did constantly a few years back (though I did one last year), but I’m still exploring what to do next.

What about you?

What’s your rut? Do you have one? Are you trying to move out of one?