I have tried to watch my own thinking and to analyze how I learn. And I made myself a short list of “Gibbs’s Rules.” I found:
1) That I sometimes encounter a certain moment of discouragement when the whole thing looks like a mess, seems hopelessly off course, through and beyond this moment I must press on.
2) I recognize that problems are overcome almost unconsciously or invisibly, that in pressing on you must sometimes do so blindly.
3) That you follow an instinct (and that instinct exists).
4) That in general it’s better to take your bearings from great predecessors, whose works you look at and consciously imitate than from your peers because the past is bigger than the present.
5) That no one can hold your hand. To recognize what counts; you must somehow recognize for yourself what is good. You must turn toward and learn to understand your own sensibilities. The first artists’ material at hand is not the pencil, not the paper, but is instead your own mind. There are things that you know without knowing how you know them. The inner compass follows some kind of inborn magnetic field for, as Rembrandt demonstrated, the artist is a part of nature.
[Above: Rembrandt’s etching “The Three Trees.” On the far right you can see the little artist on the hill, “studying nature.”]