1. Art Is or Versus Design?

    brian on 2007.03.05
    at 10:41 am

    My amigo and co-worker Josh Porter has made an interesting post about “Five Principals to Design By” which he’s added to the about page at his website.

    These are for the most part great. But my interpretations of art and design differ significantly.

    It matters very little what observers think or do: the practice of Art doesn’t require them. It is a necessary activity for the artist, and the artist alone.

    The viewer of art is a critical role. I don’t know one artist who has ever made anything (that was going to be seen by any other human) that didn’t consider how someone is going to react to it. In fact, I’d say that the definition of art is creating something that people have a reaction to, thus predicating the viewer, or else art can’t exist. Oxford’s American English Dictionaries defines art in part:

    …producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power

    “To be appreciated” means there needs to be someone to appreciate.

    There are people who only make art for themselves, but in that case, it is themselves who fill the roll as viewer. Without someone to experience art, it’s my belief that art ceases to exist.

    Josh states,

    We marvel at Michelangelo’s David even though we could recreate a million of them because it was the toil and expression of a single man.

    “We marvel” means there’s an audience (the appreciators!). For the a great deal of art from David‘s era, artists made creations for benefactors. If the benefactor didn’t like it, the artist might not again get such a payday and thus couldn’t feed his family.

    Tangentally, I disagree that we could make a million David‘s because art is not merely the physical craft of creating the form of David but its the act of determining the pose, the expression on the face, the materials, how far the work will be progressed (say a bust versus a whole figure). If we recreated the form of David, we’d only be reproducing a portion of the art that Michaelangelo created.

    Again, how art interacts with humans other than the artist is often a critical factor to the work. A part of the work is the reaction that it generates within the viewer. H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds was good art. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds was great art, extending upon the original work. The reaction is what made it great. Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds was neither.

    Thus, based on my incredibly broad definition of art, design is certainly art. In fact, since the design is art that has an additional purpose beyond beauty or emotional power, I think it is thus a high form of art. Returning to Oxford’s, from the verb definition of “design” we extract that designing is done,

    with a specific purpose or intention in mind

    So, imo, design is art with a specific purpose, utility, or intention in mind…

    A design would be then evaluated upon three factors, it’s utility (it’s ability to fulfill its purpose in being) it’s beauty, and the viewer’s reaction to it (be it emotional or other, for example, if the design is persuasive, does the viewer act upon the message?)

    Take art, add more importance to information transfer and you get to design as a subset of art. That’s my take. After all, there’s a reason design is taught in art schools.

    Posted in: Art · Design


    Comments (2)

    1. Kyle said on 2007.03.05 at 05:35 pm

      I’m in total agreement Brian. With all due respect to Josh, I felt his definition of design was a little shallow. To extend your point – not only is design art that requires a viewer to react emotionally to it, as well as use in a practical manner, it also often needs to specify the type of viewer it connects with. Many times we choose design styles that will get a reaction out of one particular demographic at the cost of alienating another whom it’s not intended for.

    2. Brigitte Schuster said on 2007.03.06 at 03:20 pm

      boundaries between the definition of art and design are very open

      I think, these days, boundaries between the definition of art and design are very open.

      The intention of art and design though is different: For art, the creator does not have to fulfill any external requirements, he decides the message he wants to transmit with his work, it is a subjective process. Design, indeed, is much more objective and is focused on criteria as i.e. the functionality and target group of the product. It is a creation.

      Looking at the final creation, not knowing about the background of creation, both forms can be seen as aesthetically pleasant and be defined as art. At the end, it also depends on the context where the design is displayed to be considered as a form of art. Can a design magazine be art? For me, yes.

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