If you’re a regular viewer of mine, you probably just got through my series talking about Soviet Montage Theory. Over the course of posting them, I’ve gotten a few comments from people stating things like “thinking too much about academics messes with my creative flow” or “I just do what feels right in the moment”. While I agree to some capacity that it’s easy to overthink the creative process to the detriment of your project, let me a take a moment to try and convince you on why shouldn’t completely ignore academic theory.
Art Theory is Language
Academic art theory attempts to explore the psychology of how humans of all cultures and backgrounds interpret. They were developed out of a desire to communicate effectively, and usually are only accepted as valid after extensive experimentation and international peer review and discourse, much like the scientific community. Nothing comes from a vacuum.
Theories can change as culture, society, and technology changes. It’s an ever evolving sphere of knowledge, and there is lots to explore. In my humble opinion, it’s just like learning a language.
There’s always room to experiment (and you should experiment!), but you have to know the foundational rules of the language to be able to break them without your message getting totally lost in translation.
Know Your Audience
Once you have your foundation, you can do more specific research. A place I like to start, is to figure out who your audience is. Who is the story for? How will they interpret it?
Someone growing up in a poor town in a third world country is going to interpret things differently than an upper class person in North America – and I’m talking about more than just spoken and written languages. Colors, symbols, and figures have different meanings to different cultures.
Once you know your audience, you can assess which theory would give you the best approach to use to convey your message effectively. Marketers understand this concept completely- it’s what makes them great at selling products!
Art For the Self vs For Others
On a slightly related note, it’s worth asking who you’re making a piece of art for. It’s totally fine to say “I only make art for myself”, but if you do that, and then get upset when people you show it to don’t understand it, then I’d say you need to reevaluate your position.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making art for yourself. Ultimately, art is self-expression! You should make art for yourself! But part of being able to express yourself is actually being heard. How can others hear you and understand you if you’re not even attempting to speak their language?