I friend of mine who I do a lot of album cover design for, has been for years trying to convince me to mount an ‘art exhibition’ of some of the work I’ve been doing for him, it particular, a style of painterly – photo-montage that I’ve used on a couple of his covers. I haven’t been all that keen on the idea, for one, I don’t like to think I dwell on style too much, but in my mind I feel as if this particular one I employed was starting to becoming a crutch that I knew I could employ perhaps because I was lacking in a decent concept. It has gotten me thinking more about the relationship between art and design. By using this ‘style’ was I in fact crossing over into art? Is this what people generally think of as an artist, someone expressing themselves through a single recognisable style?
I’ve never looked upon myself as an artist as such, trying to convince myself that I’m a halfway decent designer through the years has been hard enough. I would pretty much equate calling myself an artist with about as much respect as I would consider calling myself a wanker. I cringe when someone introduces me to themselves as such, as a title, I feel as though it is something that needs to be bestowed upon the recipient, earned rather than freely used as your job title.
To me,the word design implies something that has been created through pre-planning and pre-thought to reach a pre-determined outcome (a lot of ‘pre’s’ there!) Art on the other hand seems to be something a lot harder for me to define, rather than generalise, it’s perhaps something best left to the individual to come to their own conclusions. I do think though, that is a term that is used much too often to categorise creative endeavors. I think good ‘art’ should carry a unique message or emotion, not needing to attach itself to any pre-determined expectations or doctrines. It’s something that can convey a multitude of thoughts and feelings, the artist, free from a particular expected outcome can create whatever they want without having to explain why they have produced what they have. The only client they have is their own self-fulfillment. They key words I think are ‘individual’ and unique’.
Design as such seems some what at opposites with that definition, in a strictly commercial and traditional sense. The designer is often taught to submerge their stylistic individuality in service of the design, to produce something that serves the needs of the client, not the fulfillment of the designers creative expression. I’m not sure too many designer’s get into the field to solely work to service the client. Design is a way of legitalimising our creative pursuits – “look Mum & Dad, I can make a living out of ‘expressing myself”. That’s putting it pretty simplistically, but each of us likes to feel that we have a little bit of ‘the artist’ in us – most of the time it’s a struggle to incorporate a little of that and at the same time, solve the clients needs.
The main problem I have with what is loosely incorporated and titled as ‘art’ is that most of it is simply a throwback to what has been done before. It’s not falling into the category of ‘individual’ or ‘unique’. You often hear artists as ‘working in the style of…’ or ‘from the school of…. In that case, the artist is realistically just following and feeding popular trends rather than following an individual or unique vision. In that case you may be a painter or a sculptor or whatever medium you choose to work in, but it doesn’t make you an artist. Design on the other hand tends to draw inspiration from what has come before, trends and styles are common, swiss style, modernism, grunge, minimalism – commercialism dictates the course the designer takes to a large extent in fulfilling the clients brief.
W shouldn’t be ashamed to look upon ourselves as designers and not artists. We all want to think we are producing creative work that is worthwhile, we’re often looking for the next big trend to incorporate into our work, to make us stand out, to be well on top of it before it’s overwhelmed into the mass media. Perhaps the key lies in looking into the heart of what really makes something ‘art’ – to use that example and to be strong enough to follow our unique passions and emotions to look beyond what is trendy, to stray from the rules and create our own ‘art’ and bring some of that back into our day to day design work.