Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rule vs. Guide

The word "rule" seems to come up a lot when people are talking about improving at art. From the beginning of civilized society we have needed rules to keep things in order, and to help us judge what is right and wrong for that which is not readily apparent. In many cases, the rule is vital, but there are instances where the rule has no business being there and can be used as an excuse for following a bad path and negating your discernment.

Is there some composition rule that will make for better designs? The rule of thirds, the rule of the golden ratio, rules in color theory? Is there something I need to distill from artwork that's already good? Some kind of secret knowledge or formula? Do I have all the rendering skills but simply lack the correct math to make my artwork great?

Where there are plenty of rules to be followed in the world to keep you out of jail, I contend that in art there are few. In fact, most often when someone is talking about a "Rule," what I really think they mean is "Guide." But I don't want argue semantics here, as I'm sure to those with experience take the word rule in the same context as rule of thumb. But that's simply what a lot of these rules are. Keep them in mind, they will guide you to a good foundation for your art, but do not follow the rules to the bitter end, constraining you to produce stale and boring work.

It can be hard to tell, but there's a big difference between rules and guides, and without proper discernment it's easy to confuse the two. It's the mindset that's the difference. Feeling like you need to adhere to a strict set of aesthetic rules because a book or a teacher told you so, verses letting those principles guide you in your work. I call this student-brain.

The symptom of student-brain can arise when individuals have been trained in a very specific way of skinning a cat, only to step out into the world to find there are so many different ways to do that. It's easy to believe the way you where taught was the correct way, but after some time you may start to ask "Which way is the correct way?" 

Save yourself a lot of frustration by thinking about a technique as how they did it, instead of how to do it. There's a general accepted result that's expected of you, but the path to the end is not carved with a set of rules. In fact, if any industry is like this, art in particular makes it's successes by carving a new path, with new styles and techniques. Observing and taking notes on the paths that came before you will help you discover your style, remembering that none of us are doing it right, but some of us are doing what we do really well.

And by learning all the different rules and guides you're simply finding what works best for you, so that one day you can do what you do really well.

- I want to hear from you -

  • What's a rule that you feel has been holding you back?
  • What about a time that you let go of a rule and found that you achieved better results?

Or I hope that helps and thanks for reading.

This week I wanted to recommend a web series Extra Credits that is all about game development. I have nothing else to say but how fantastic this show is and that it should be required watching for all video game developers, because these guys tackle some really heavy questions and distill it into easy to digest segments.

Check it out!

1 comment:

  1. The 'rule' that's been holding me back recently is the idea that there's a correct way to design - both in terms of the steps taken to get to the final product, and in the specific things we ought to be thinking about when designing and analysing what we've done. How much thought is the right amount of thought, etc. One of the symptoms I suffer for not having gotten a traditional design education. I get so caught up with the notion of 'am I doing this correctly' that I just don't get anything done!

    Other readers: bear in mind that this symptom might not affect you - many designers make a career without having had a traditional formal design education.

    Cheers for the post, Garret!