Art Vs Design

Can design be also defined as art? Can the two converge or should they be viewed as completely separate disciplines?

I am a graphic designer but that seems to be a job title that a lot of people have trouble getting their heads around. When I was growing up, I was referred to as being ‘artistic’ but I don’t ever remember thinking to myself as being an ‘artist’, as if such titles overly matter that much when you’re a kid and you just like to draw. Even now when people try to describe what I do I am more than often referred to as being ‘artistic’, I usually can’t be bothered to spend the time correcting that description, even though it often ends with people being put out by my refusal to paint a portrait of their baby or their dog.

It does get me often thinking about the relationship between art and design and just how each is perceived and defined. How much similarity are there in the processes and the final results? The type of work I do as a designer varies greatly. I can go from doing very corporate layouts following strict identity guidelines to the work I do for an independent record label where I’m given pretty much carte blanche over what I want to design and create, where I incorporate a lot of my drawing, painting and even sculptural skills. This is very personal work from my standpoint, sometimes someone might even look at it and call it a ‘work of art’ but I cringe at the title of ‘artist’ and the pretensions that the term implies. I’m not ashamed of being a designer, but if someone looks upon the work I produce and calls it ‘art’ is that enough to make it so?

I may not know a lot about art, but as the saying goes ‘I know what I like’ and as a designer and knowing perhaps a little about my chosen profession, I think I can at least define a few areas that might be seen differentiate art and design.

Art often creates questions in the minds of those viewing it.

Art should encourage some sort of emotional response in the viewer.

Art can instil different responses, emotionally or mentally from different people often depending on their individual circumstances.

Art is created for the artist, it is ‘selfish,’ there is no client or message to be communicated other than what the artist themselves wishes to impart.

Art has meaning (often to only the artist themselves or depending on the viewers interpretation) but seldom provides a tangible use other than decoration.

Design needs to be comprehended to fulfill its purpose.

Design solves a problem, provides a service and clarifies information.

Design has a distinct message to impart.

Design engages, whether that be to read the instructions on a medicine bottle, to operate your iphone or navigate your way through an interior space.

Design is created with an end client, purpose and audience in mind.

Design is collaborative is always a collaborative endeavour (even if that is just between the designer and client).

But the difficulty in these definitions is that they are not so cut and dry. Many are in fact interchangeable between art and design. Design can just as often create questions and emotional responses in the mind of the viewer and still be a ‘work of design’ under any other of the above listed definitions, while a work of art can also be collaborative and have a distinct message to impart.

So while I call myself a designer and tend to hate the term artist (I even hate it when someone else refers to themselves as an artist – it seems a title that should be bestowed rather than taken ad hoc) it’s easy to see where the boundaries can become blurred. It doesn’t help that in an industry who’s very job description is ‘to communicate’ doesn’t do a very good job of actually communicating what that job is to the general public.

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1 comment
  1. Damian Hamilton said:

    Thoughtful words Chris. The crossover can sometimes be a blur. I do not like how “graphic designer’s’, to some, are perceived as desktop publishers or mouse-pushers, rather than problem solvers.

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