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I have read so many books and articles on design and on art,
what it is and how it should be executed. I must admit that since
becoming a producer my designing days have taken a backseat to
management. I enjoyed being a designer and now I enjoy working with
designers in addition to every other aspect of production. I was at
home contemplating what the difference between design and art is,
and I think I have come up with some pretty clear lines between the
two and have also identified where those lines have become
Now, it is my understanding that design in the commercial sense
is a very calculated and defined process; it is discussed amongst a
group and implemented taking careful steps to make sure the
objectives of the project are met. A designer is similar to an
engineer in that respect and must not only have an eye for color
and style but must adhere to very intricate functional details that
will meet the objectives of the project. The word “design” lends
itself to a hint that someone or something has carefully created
this “thing” and much planning and thought has been executed to
produce the imagery or materials used for the project.
On the other hand, art is something completely separate—any good
artist should convey a message or inspire an emotion it doesn't
have to adhere to any specific rules, the artist is creating his
own rules. Art is something that can elicit a single thought or
feeling such as simplicity or strength, love or pain and the
composition simply flows from the hand of the artist. The artist is
free to express themselves in any medium and color scheme, using
any number of methods to convey their message. No artist ever has
to explain why they did something a certain way other than that
this is what they felt would best portray the feeling or emotion or
Many designers are artists and many artists are designers, the
line between the two is complex and intriguing. I was perusing some
art books and something strange caught my eye, I had noticed that
many of the artists were not creating a unique, almost chaotic
portrait of their innermost selves or inspirations rather they were
clearly using popular trends to capture the attention of the
viewer. I noticed that many of the pieces being shown were
“throwbacks” of past artists styles or color and simply refreshed
for public consumption. The very fact that older artists inspire
newer artists seems to contradict the whole definition of art.
These artists are following a method, a pattern or a standard that
has already been established by another artist and therefore they
are not creating something completely new rather following
instructions laid down by a previous artist rendering that piece to
be more design than art.
I can completely appreciate the paths laid down by past artists
who establish a style or method but at this point it seems that
when that style or method is used the art then turns into design. I
looked through some older books and saw a rather obvious occurrence
in the art being displayed, many of the newer artists were simply
copying things from the past. I admire a person's talent for
picking up a brush and creating an image that has an impact on its
viewer but when I see it over and over again by different people
who are all claiming to be “of the school of...,” and that this is
legitimate, unique art, I find that a bit hard to swallow. If the
artist said, “I have designed something in the standard of
Picasso,” and this is simply a design based on his style but a new
twist has been added, then I would feel more comfortable accepting
it for what it is, a design. But when an artist's style and methods
are completely the same as someone else's and even if the message
is different I feel that this cannot be passed off as art because
the newness and the chaotic nature of it simply flowing from the
source seems to be absent and it becomes more like a paint by
numbers project than a creation that has never been seen
I do not claim to be an expert on defining what art is and what
it is not, but I do know that if we look at the differences between
art and design we will see a very clear line drawn between the two.
An engineer, if given the exact coordinates to place different
colored pixels in specific places, could render a beautiful website
or ad simply by following instructions; most design projects have a
detailed set of instructions and most design is based on current
trends and influences. An artist, on the other hand, could never be
given any specific instructions in creating a new chaotic and
unique masterpiece because his emotions and soul is dictating the
movement of his hands and the impulses for the usage of the medium.
No art director is going to yell at an artist for producing
something completely unique because that is what makes an artist an
artist and not a designer.
I feel that designers who are passionate about their work should
try and dedicate time to create “art” for art's sake and train
themselves to express emotion and feeling through their designs.
Uniqueness comes from passion and not adhering to any rules that
may force the artist to make even one stroke that was unintended.
Commercialism has been dictating the course of design and has made
a clear and thick line between the artist and the designer.
Following trends and applying imagery based on specific needs and
goals is the easy part, allowing yourself to express a message or
emotion free of any specifications is where true beauty is born.
Designers who are looking for the next big trend or who want to be
the one to create that trend must create chaotic and truly original
pieces to display their artistic prowess and then apply those
unique methods to their design at work, and I think this will
create a truly harmonious balance between art and design.
Ever wonder who designs all the crests, seals, medals, and emblems for branches of government and military? The director of the Institute of Heraldry tells all.
Section: Inspiration -
interview, Voice, branding
Benjamin Dauer is a Senior Product Designer at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. and was recently the Lead Product Designer at SoundCloud in Berlin, Germany. AIGA Baltimore took a field trip to interview Benjamin about designing in-house for NPR.
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