So what’s the difference between graphic design and art anyway? The short answer: I don’t know. I think, these days, it’s a bit more of a grey area than it has been in the past. I think we have all been taught that design communicates a message and art communicates a feeling. But doesn’t that line blur in some cases? Many cases? Perhaps all cases? What if your design client is Barack Obama circa 2007 and you’re a graffiti artist trying to deliver a message of “hope” to a nation of skeptics? As far as I can tell, “hope” is a feeling, but Obama is a product, and Shepard Fairey and the Obey Giant crew skirt a style line somewhere between fine art and design.
So the first point of this post is, who really knows the difference between art and design anymore? Is there a difference? Is it all being blurred? Can’t a designer put as much heart and soul into a poster as a painter puts into a painting?
I have a controversial opinion that a painter, painting study after study of a bowl of fruit is not in fact “delivering a feeling” or leaving anything open to interpretation. I think that painter is trying to improve his or her craft. Some of our favorite and most revered works of art are just studies on a theme. Are commissioned fine artists all that different from a modern graphic designer? I think we like to idealize the works of many painters, needing to believe that there was more to a work than commission. Are we forgetting that the Sistine Chapel was a commissioned piece?*
My second and final point of this post is that though the line between art and design seems to have blurred a bit, no great work playing for either team would be a great work if there weren’t a passionate human behind it. The Sistine Chapel would not exist in the extraordinary fashion it does, commission or not, if Michelangelo hadn’t been a truly passionate painter with a gift for figure and movement and dedication to his art. I believe the same is true for designers, in all senses of the word. Like a fine artist, a great designer is someone who has a passion for figure and form, color and space. I think that if a designer is working on something he or she is truly passionate about, then they cannot help but deliver a genuine feeling through their work.
*disclaimer: I love the traditional fine arts. I paint on the side, and I think knowing how to be both a designer and a painter makes for a more well-rounded “artist” of any type.