Why Art Must have Rules

Overread

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I've often read from people that art not only should not, but cannot have "rules" which define its creation. These people further often believe that you have to be "born with the eye" for art and that its a simple fact that if you don't have it, you cannot learn it.

Others argue that by learning the rules you restrict your potential creativity because you are confining yourself to a limited set of view points instead of letting your creative side have freedom to experiment.


So lets begin looking at the first statement, that there are no "rules" of art. So there are no rules, how do you improve? This group will often advise a person asking such a question to go and look at the work of the masters and study their creations.

Without realising it they are creating two statements which are directly at odds with each other. For if the masters of a craft can be emulated then that supposes that there are elements within their creations which can be repeated. Patterns which create interest, which display creativity. That if you can spot those patterns you could learn them, emulate them and thus incorporate them into your own photography. Furthermore that these patterns can be emulated outside of simply coping the exact same creation.

The thing is people have been doing this for generations and when they discover one of these patterns they describe it; put a name to it and suddenly its an artistic theory - which can sometimes get renamed to a compositional "rule". Rule in this context not being a series of instructions that you MUST follow*; but rather an explanation of a compositional element. Much like the "Laws of Physics" do not define what physics should be, but instead are ways to understand how physics works.
So if you believe that the masters can be copied then you already believe in the concept of artistic theories. Denying yourself (and advising others to deny themselves) of studying the vast body of compositional rules and theories is thus holding people back. It's denying them generations of study in the hope that they might catch one or two of those theories for themselves.



Now lets move to the second concept - that you have to be born with it. This is a very strange statement to make to a whole subject and concept. Rarely does anyone ever say that you have to be born to be an electrician; or a runner; or a plumber or a bank manager. Furthermore when you look at the majority of the past masters in almost any creative field you notice that most did spend copious amounts of time being taught the subject. Often starting at a very young age and focusing on the subject as they grew older. So if the past masters had to spend so many years in school learning, why suddenly cannot others hope to do the same?
I believe this viewpoint comes from a failing in many modern school systems, whereby art is a somewhat overlooked and considered "lesser" subject. As a result it has less time accorded to it and, I'd argue, that many of the teachers lack time and training/experience to be effective at teaching the fundamentals, let alone the more advanced. As a result it tends to be a subject where little instruction is given; where there is no time for proper practice and the system relies on "natural talent/interest" in students to make that up in their free time. This reinforces the idea in many that its a "born with skill" as they see themselves fail and others show far greater success with the same level of teaching - even though those showing a higher success are likely spending far more hours outside of class practising.



Then the third point, that by learning the rules and theories of art you are restricting yourself and your creative potential. I think this one comes around, especially in photography, because the literature is very limited in photography focused books. At least for your beginner to intermediate books the majority tend to focus on only a tiny handful of theories - most often things like the "rule of thirds", leading lines and others. I think this creates a false impression that there's only a very limited number of theories to work within. If you restrict yourself like that then, yes, it will restrict your creative potential. Because you are only exposing yourself to a tiny fraction of the greater whole.
Instead I'd argue that learning the theories is not limiting but releasing. By learning theories and starting to learn more than just the few introduction ones; you start to learn better how to "talk" with images and art. You are building a language up, a visual language. As a result by learning more and more theories and means by which to talk in this new language, you give yourself far greater scope to express yourself with your creations. Art is like a language and the greater you learn it the greater your scope for creativity is. You'd never argue that an author should not study literature; to read the works of masters; to understand the mechanics of the language they write in - just the same you should never argue that an artist should not study art.






In the end art must have rules, it must have theories. This allows for repetition, emulation and for the whole concept of a "master" of their craft. To argue otherwise would be to suggest that art is a purely random element; something that is unfathomable and which, as a result, can never be emulated nor expanded.
I think photographers get this viewpoint partly because photography has the power to create even when art isn't important within the photo. There are many great works of photography where the importance has nothing to do with art; where its measured by the emotional connection to what is shown; where political elements are captured; or key moments in time. Things that hold no (or limited) artistic merit, but which are captivating for that they show in that moment of time.

But that, in my view, does not diminish the reality of art; that art is a subject like any other. That you CAN learn it, that you are not born with or without it. That the average person can learn, benefit from learning and broaden their creative scope through the study of it as a subject.


*Though its important to note that at various points in history this is just what they were used as by the artistic elite to control their market and product
 

zombiesniper

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Agree.

There must be a criteria in order to asses a piece of work. Without it everyone is already an exceptional photographer and every image is a masterpiece. And we know this isn't true.

I think where it gets into a grey area is how much emphasis one puts on the "rules". Some will abide bye them at all costs. Even if this makes the image less pleasing for it. Others are so set against them, and their images suffer for "the art".

Like most things, my preferences and moderation I find is the key. For me there are no hard rules to follow. I have learned them and if the image suits it I do take them into account. But there's a difference between making an informed decision and just bucking the system.
 

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But there's a difference between making an informed decision and just bucking the system.

Beat me to the point. Rules give you a starting point not an end. However there are things that exist for a reason. Arrangement of the elements in a composition can and does have an effect on how the viewer perceives your work. Static compositions tend to inspire calm and tranquility in the viewer, while dynamic compositions create unease or excitement. The same can be said with the use of color theory. We see blues and greens as cooler and red as warmer. There's some other things like top loading/bottom loading, contrast, and focus that also affect the viewers senses. The thing is, it doesn't matter how much talent you have, if you present it in a manner that goes against time tested logic, you run the risk of no one liking or getting it.

As to being born with talent, I believe there are some who are born with an advantage. The ability to differentiate between subtle hue differences varies quite a bit between individuals, as does the ability to focus. The coordination between mind and hand to draw or paint varies. Even the ability to perceive the image in your mind before you give it life varies. Yes, there are skills that can be taught, that give respectable results, but once you get past basic proficiency those with talent will start to rise above.
 

AlanKlein

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I wouldn't get too caught up considering yourself an artist. That's pretty much up to the viewer. In the meanwhile, just go out and shoot nice pictures that you like. Then frame and give them to friends and family for their enjoyment. They'll love you for it more than some stranger stroking your ego telling you you're a great artist.
 

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charlie76

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I wouldn't get too caught up considering yourself an artist. That's pretty much up to the viewer. In the meanwhile, just go out and shoot nice pictures that you like. Then frame and give them to friends and family for their enjoyment. They'll love you for it more than some stranger stroking your ego telling you you're a great artist.

great post, well said
 

charlie76

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A line should definitely be drawn. And it should be drawn WAY before “performance art”. On my god is that hard to watch
 

smoke665

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I wouldn't get too caught up considering yourself an artist. That's pretty much up to the viewer. In the meanwhile, just go out and shoot nice pictures that you like. Then frame and give them to friends and family for their enjoyment. They'll love you for it more than some stranger stroking your ego telling you you're a great artist.

I suspect the OP was not meant to encompass all photography. Obviously there has to be a distinction. I take a lot of snapshots, that never see post processing, they're memories of moments in time, family, friends, places we visit. I also do photography that's meant to create an art work, which has considerably more thought involved in the process and editing. While as you said the viewer determines the art worthiness, the artist has to first create something to view, be it an accidental snapshot, that by chance captures the emotion or tells the story of the moment or a planned composition.
 

mrca

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Because I said so.
 

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I mostly agree with this, but in my classes, when we discuss "the rules", I explain to my students that these are "time-tested", but that there was a time previous to these rules that people who created art really had no rules- cave drawings for example are just a series of works bunched together with no real compositional rules guiding them, but we still consider them to be "Art". So, it's good to know what the rules are when appropriate, but also OK to envision your creation in a way that breaks these rules as well. This to me, is all about the creative process and allows the free expression that we all desire to have in our work. Just my $0.02.

Be well, one and all,

Mark
 

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I mostly agree with this, but in my classes, when we discuss "the rules", I explain to my students that these are "time-tested", but that there was a time previous to these rules that people who created art really had no rules- cave drawings for example are just a series of works bunched together with no real compositional rules guiding them, but we still consider them to be "Art". So, it's good to know what the rules are when appropriate, but also OK to envision your creation in a way that breaks these rules as well. This to me, is all about the creative process and allows the free expression that we all desire to have in our work. Just my $0.02.

Be well, one and all,

Mark
if you dig through common/standard lists of "the best or greatest photographs of decase x" youll see that MORE photographs on those lists DO NOT FOLLOW ANY OF THE so called RULES of photography"

And to many of these "rules" contradict each other in ways that a person just says screw it and goes and plays with a yarn ball
 

Pixeldawg1

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[QUOTE="C. M, post: [/QUOTE]
if you dig through common/standard lists of "the best or greatest photographs of decase x" youll see that MORE photographs on those lists DO NOT FOLLOW ANY OF THE so called RULES of photography"

And to many of these "rules" contradict each other in ways that a person just says screw it and goes and plays with a yarn ball[/QUOTE]

Hmmm. In reading MY post, it doesn't seem too clear that I am telling my students to break the rules. Use them as a guide, but if you have a better way, do it.
 
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Overread

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The key is that if you understand teh reasoning behind why a rule works then you understand the visual language being used. If you understand that then you can change how you communicate with your photo. "Breaking" a rule by doing the opposite doesn't mean you're breaking things, it might well mean that you're simply saying the opposite which in itself is likely a theory/rule of artistic creation.

Or might be a combination of two or three or more other theories being used in tandem.
 

Dean_Gretsch

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@Overread To your last point, there used to be a fellow here that did some very interesting portraits of homeless people in the UK. Invariably, the same member would tear them apart for not meeting " technical " standards, yet the freshness of the path he chose really grabbed my attention and I would always argue his case for him. He had his own style, stayed true to it and, at least for me, it worked! He doesn't post often now. I suppose the drama turned him off to TPF. Pity.
 

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