No matter how much you admire something from the past, there are a distinct set of privileges that arise from living in the contemporary world. I move in circles that are concerned with recreating the past, but what draws me into the practice is the impossibility of a perfect recreation--as well as the privilege with which a modern person may approach the past. I find that I deal with these concepts both as a painter and as a faire enthusiast.
I used to think of my art life, academic life, work life and faire life as separate entities, but lately I've taken a more holistic view. I make things. Different things, depending on the situation, but ultimately all are important contributions to my life and point of view as an artist. Remember that artists, like scientists, are researchers. Whenever we make something, we stand on the shoulders of giants to do it. In this age of hyper-accessible research, that couldn't be more true. You don't have to leave your seat to discover one million other ways someone has done precisely what you intend to do. But it is a poor researcher who replicates exactly the experiment of another. The innovation comes in analyzing what has been done before, and deciding how you will do it differently.
When I sew a historically-inspired garment, I learn all of the rules about that garment so I can decide how to break them. Skirts weren't traditionally mounted to waistbands? Mine will be. It makes for easier wearing, for me at least. Whalebone was used to stiffen corsets? I'll use cable ties, more efficient. I am approaching this garment with an idea of how I need it to perform, what I intend to do with it and in it. Painting offers a similar experience. When I approach a painting, I have some idea of what I want to accomplish with it. I research other artists who have explored similar themes, techniques or subjects. Then I decide what changes I will make. Just as the Tudors didn't have cable ties to stiffen their corsets, Rembrandt did not have cameras or computers to create his paintings. These new materials, tools and techniques are available to us to make our work more efficient, more creative, more experimental, more of what it needs to be.
The sole purpose of rule-breaking is not to make things easier. It is to improve on things. The contemporary world offers alternatives to the historical world that we'd be foolish to ignore. Because the truth is, I do not want to visit the Renaissance any more
than I want to paint the Arnolfini Portrait. We have learned so much
since then that as a people, we have nothing to gain by reliving it. What's important is to re-interpret, examine what aspects are still relevant and why, and present it to a new audience so they can see why the community values it. The rote reenaction of the past is a cultural experiment, and valuable in its own right. Looking to the past with an eye towards innovation and rule-breaking is an opportunity to create art. By approaching the past with the knowledge we carry as moderns, we can do more than reenact the past. We can re-create it. Keep what we like, and change the rest. These changes and rule-breaks shouldn't be considered cheats, but innovations to be shared with the community, that we might continue to innovate and enrich the experience for participants, observers, and "makers" of many kinds.