Disclaimer: This article is in no way a scholarly source. It may not be entirely 100% accurate. But like scientific theories, the Levels System is a constantly changing theory based on my observations so far. So if you notice any inconsistencies feel free to point them out and let me know because it’s really a community effort.
This classification is how my friends and I explain the phenomena associated with the odd ratios between effort, skill, and audience appreciation in art. The format my friends and I have been using for listing a classification is artsiness-goodness. If only one number is said (e.g. level 2), that number refers to artsiness.
For the chart above, the x-axis is artsiness, which comes first, and the y-axis designates goodness. Here is an in-depth description of each:
1-1 — someone making something the wrong way and it turns out bad
1-2 — someone making something the wrong way and it turns out okay
1-3 — someone who never learned the ‘correct’ way to do something, but either due to extreme luck, or innate potential, creates something good outside of traditional rules
2-1 — person who learned something but is bad at it
2-2 — person who has learned something and is okay at it
2-3 — person who is a master at their craft in a traditional sense
3-1 — someone who got bored of doing things correctly and makes bad things on purpose that his/her friends know are a joke
3-2 — someone beginning to master the craft of level 3 artsiness
3-3 — ironically ‘incorrect’ but is executed so well that it still ends up being dope
The Levels Laws
- The Innocence Lost Rule: 1-3 is most respected by creatives, because you can move up the levels, but you can never create 1-3 once you’ve learned the rules, because you would be consciously breaking the rules (level 3).
- The Goldilocks Principle: 2-3 will be universal acclaim, because it is really good, but not too foreign in terms of artsiness to any particular level. It is a great balance between achieving commercial success and maintaining the artist’s dignity. For example, The Dark Knight is a mass appeal blockbuster movie, but is appreciated by both 6 year-old boys and film critics alike. It is ‘just right’ for everybody.
- The Triangle Doctrine: 3-3 is the most difficult to do, but in the end won’t be appreciated as much as 2-3 (reason behind naming is because the triangle is probably one of the most difficult instruments to master but 99% of the world wouldn’t know/care).
- The Kanye West Postulate: People are not confined to one system. For example many 2-3 painters and graphic designers do 1-3 photography.
- The Hopscotch Effect: You can also skip levels (most people do at some point), though the general pathway usually follows a level by level trajectory.
- Separate But Equal Law: High artsiness level doesn’t necessarily mean good. That’s what the goodness number is for. It would probably make more sense to have artsiness be designated by letters so the equality becomes more apparent (i.e. A-1, B-1, etc.). But it’s funnier/more insulting to call someone ‘level 1’ than ‘level A’ so that’s why they’re both numbers.
- Double Negative Rule: Level 3 is pretty much the same as Level 1, except with intention.
It can be confusing at first but once you start feeling it, you’ll see it in everything.
Are you trying to shoot with direct flash but your old photo professor tells you it’s ugly? He’s probably 2-2 and doesn’t understand your 3-1 pursuits. Did you make some art that your level 2 parents hate, but your level 1 grandma loves? That’s the Double Negative Rule in effect. It’s like you’re in the matrix and you just took the red pill.
All that said, be wary of Levels Elitism. Levels Elitism is something many artists fall victim to (whether or not they are consciously aware of the system), which can stifle their growth as an artist. Many times, people making 3-1 art will begin to dismiss critique from level 2 peers, thinking they simply don’t ‘get it.’ Oftentimes the level 2 feedback is ignored because they offer a 2-3 solution to the 3-1 art, which would not be in the 3-1 artist’s intention. However, just remember the Separate But Equal Rule and strive to find a 3-3 solution. A dope 3-3 piece would impress level 2 artists, but more importantly, you’ll impress yourself.
Next: Beyond the Levels System
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