Tuesday, 25 August 2020 08:56

Art and Design: Are they different?

art vs design

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is that of between lightening and the lightening bug, Mark Twain noted prophetically. Art and design are usually viewed in a synonymous relationship, and although they do share a complimentary relationship , the two terms are as different from each other as chalk and cheese. The difference is subtle , yet wide enough to merit a detailed analysis.

Art is fluid. Design is concrete.

Art is a manifestation of an artist’s feelings, emotions or ideology. It is boundless. An artist has any color, material or medium at his disposal to express himself. Art is for art’s sake; that is to say that it is a means of expression and not meant to serve any purpose other than the artistic fulfillment of the artist. Art is freedom.

Design exists to serve a purpose. It is user-centric hence it has to be precise and can’t afford the luxury of loosing sight of the end user. For example while designing furniture, clothes, bridges, a brochure or a website, the designer has to make sure that it is user friendly or else it looses it’s purpose. This is not to say that design can't be rebellious like art, it can do so in a limit.
Art is non- utilitarian. Design is commercial.

Art do not confirm to Jeremy Bentham’s popular idea of Utilitarianism, which preaches that best actions are the ones that maximize utility. Art adds to the cultural, intellectual and aesthetic wealth of the society. For some the utility of this wealth is less tangible to that of a design. Art is self sufficient and do not depend on an external entity or object for validation.

Unlike most arts, design is commercial and profit driven. Design is a communicative medium and exists to convey a clear message to the consumers or to increase the efficiency of a product. A design depends on an external object for its existence. For example, design of a car can exist only when there is a concept of car. A painting or a sculpture has no such dependence.

Art is subjective. Design is objective.

The very definition of art is subjective. Art verifies the famous saying that “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. One can find art in a heap of rubbish! An object of art such as a painting, sculpture, a piece of music or a work of literature lends itself to as many meanings as the eyes looking at it. The same piece of art can transform one person while appall the other.

Design is quite unlike art in this regard. A good design is always objective and leaves no room for ambiguity. It is easy to understand and convey clearly what it sets out to achieve.

Art is Left. Design is Right.

Good art asks unsettling questions to the establishment. It is supposed to disrupt the stats quo, be thought provoking and rebellious. Famous artists across the world have been persecuted for being outspoken and anti-establishment. Michelangelo’s work on Rome’s Sistine Chapel, now considered the pinnacle of Renaissance art was attacked for its nudity. Back home in India the pioneer of Modern arts in painting, the legendary M.F. Hussain had to flee the country to escape the wrath of right wing groups.

Design is supposed to answer questions. It is expected to simplify rather than complicate.

Art originates from a problem, so does the design.

Art and design are different but they are not worlds apart.
Most art stems from conflict and problems. Very often it is a cry for attention to the issue so that they can be addressed and resolved. The same holds true for design. Design can not exist in isolation of a need, a problem that needs to be resolved.

Art strives to be innovative, so does the design.

Renaissance art gave way to the Elizabethan sensibilities till restoration of monarchy in England infused a new ease and openness to arts. Old schools in arts have always continued to give way to new ones. Even the age old Victorian prudery was eventually toppled by the Modernist movement that turned every idea that traditionalists held dear on its head. Today we inhabit a post-modernist world where the distinction between high and low culture has blurred, an idea that would have hit even the most avant-garde Modernist on the face.

A cursory look at the history of design would reveal a similar lineage of innovation. Design like art has attempted to be innovative and keep pace with the sensibilities of the constantly evolving world.

Both art and design are visual representations requiring great degree of talent and skill. The purpose of this article is not to define the essential natures of art and design or to establish the superiority of one over the other. Having said that, having a vivid notion of where one belongs is a good start point.

Authored by Mr. Prashant Acharya, Assistant Professor, Department of Design.


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