Dan has asked a tough but brilliant question.
Art direction - what is it?
I've decided to answer here in a highly personal view largely based on my own experiences. I'm sure some of you will disagree, feel free to comment below.
My first real job in advertising / design was as an art director.The Chairman of the agency was an art director who was taught at the RCA. An old school, very talented creative guy.
Once we were preparing to brief a photographer for a shoot. The shoot wasn't spectacular, it was an old guy walking through a wood. The Chairman made loads of great suggestions that morning that helped to form my opinion of what Art Direction is. Here's one example. I'd visualised the old guy in the photograph wearing dark blue trousers, the Chairman changed them to red. I protested, "Why red? Who wears red trousers? It will look silly?" His thinking was that the red trousers would form a nice contrast to the browns of the wood and would help the main character in the picture stand out. He was right. And it didn't look silly.
Somehow what is ordinary in real life looks lifeless in print or on TV. Visuals often need to be larger than life to just look ordinary. Images need the spectacular turned up to 10 to have any chance of catching your eye.
I'm not being very clear.
To me, art direction is just that - directing the art. Making sure the images you produce are as beautiful, meaningful and rich as you can make them. Great art direction can evoke emotion and is the difference between this
and this. Does that make sense?
The idea may have come from a copy writer, a planner or even the Chairman's wife, but the Art Directors job is to take that visually to another level. So if the idea is to have horses leaping out of the ocean a great art director will take this
and turn it into this.
So how do you get better at Art Direction?
For me you need to understand how the visual world works. Basic things like chiarascuro and golden section. You need to understand how to create drama with light and how to make a 48 sheet change pace from left to right.
You need to look at the great image makers. The great painters, particularly the really, really old ones, because in those days paintings were used to tell stories and are laden with visual symbolism.
Lastly, there are probably some decent D&AD books on the subject.
Dan - hope that helps. Anyone else got any ideas?