I have a presentation that uses famous paintings, from renaissance, baroque, impressionistic, modernist and other periods, and I ask the audience to spot the "rules" of composition that are broken in these paintings. The "errors" run from cutting off hands, feet, heads, etc at the edge of the frames, to "mergers" between subject and background, to subjects looking or walking out of the frame, to "distracting" brighter areas than the subject, as well as many others. I ask them why they think these "violations" exist, and they often state that the artists "were unaware" of the rules, or that the paintings were done before the rules were devised! Finally, some of them respond that these are paintings, and not photographs. When I ask why the rules should be different for photographs when paintings and photographs can depict the same scenes, what they ultimately come out with is that "the judges have only a few seconds to view the picture so the impact has to be more instantaneous, and they need some more objective criteria on which to make comparisons."
When I point out that 95% of the photographs in museums and galleries, ranging from the accepted masters to the latest works of living photographers, would do poorly by the judges' rules, they agree that something seems wrong about that but they are uncomfortable about the whole situation. The result is dozens of pictures of single tulips against black bacgrounds,
all tilted diagonally from bottom left to top right, and off-centered appropriately. Or wide angle landscapes with the requisite large rock looming in the foreground with a path or road leading to a river or mountain in the background, and lo and behold, a red canoe one-third of the way in from the right, just below the non-centered horizon.
Beatiful, but ho hum all the way!.
Rules? What rules? There are no rules, and nobody is breaking them! There are hints, however; and there is wise people who understands and applies the true spirit of those hints, not just the reduced version that others call 'rules'. Read George Barr's article about "Learning From The Best Images"... those are rules.