What is Medium Specificity in Film & What Does it Mean

What is Medium Specificity in Film & What Does it Mean?

Medium specificity in film theory has been a key argument of film theory for a very long time. Primarily, medium specificity lies in the argument between the differences in cinema and theater. Or in the differences between cinema and literature. Theories of medium specificity in film suggest that different media will have core characteristics. Which form the foundation or basis upon which they should be used. Thus, medium specificity in film suggests that film as a medium has its own unique properties and aesthetics. Upon which it can be studied when compared to other mediums.

A Definition of Medium Specificity

The concept of medium specificity basically breaks down to the fact that a medium is defined as “any raw material or mode of expression used in an artistic or creative activity.”

Specificity can be defined as “the quality or fact of being specific in operation or effect” or “being specific in character.”

To further define, the term medium specificity means “the unique and proper area of competence for a form of art matches the ability of an artist.

To manipulate those features that are unique to the nature of a particular medium.” But what does all of this have to do with film?

For Example

Let’s take a look at an example that is a little bit more broad and easy to understand. In a painting, the most important elements are its flatness and abstraction.

And not the actual creation of an illusion or replicated image that the artist has produced.

Thus, medium specificity of a painting states that paint is flat, colors are flat, canvas that you paint on is flat.

And therefore the medium specificity requires the artist to critically engage with the chosen materials.

The Concept of Medium Specificity in Film

Medium specificity basically states that all art mediums from film to canvas to a sheet of paper that a poet will use to produce a poem are grounded in the intrinsic properties that make up the art form.

Thus all media are inherently different, poetry takes place in time whereas painting takes place in space.

Therefore, the two cannot possibly be examined or studied in the same manner. But rather should be studied in the ideal state of medium.  


There are key differences between video and film. There are differences between cinema and digital media. Video images are immediately recorded and visible.

Whereas film must be developed in order to be seen. The concept of medium specificity argues that the medium upon which the art is created forms the underlying means.

By which the artform is produced. Thus, video is a medium that lends itself to a variety of instances.

Ones in which artists are going to use different techniques to produce the art of video as compared to those to produce film.

The Takeaway

So what is medium specificity in film? It’s the argument that different media can be identified or differentiated from one another based on their means of imitation.

And that media have their own unique characteristics which form the basis of how they can and should be used. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *