What does design express? What is the function of art?

January 31, 2010

We began this term discussing the distinctions between art and design. How do we differentiate these two creative fields? Can something be both art and design at once? We read Rick Poynor’s article, “Art’s Little Brother” from Icon Magazine Online.

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Design is functional. Art is expressive. We accept these qualities as truths about the related and interdependent disciplines of art and design. The converse is also true: design can be highly expressive, and art serves a necessary function in our society.

Design is communication. Design is a vehicle for conveying meaning. Design has the power to evoke emotion on a massive scale. The covers of popular magazines have forever been a site for designers to air experiments and trends. Widely distributed media has the ability to shock, please, horrify, or deeply move the public. Graphic designers are trained visual communicators with an arsenal of semiotic tools and tricks at their disposal: conveying messages with word and image become challenging exercises whose solutions have the power to express distinct emotion. Such widespread expression of ideas and emotions can facilitate a collective consciousness that would not be possible without the scale and accessibility of design.

Design is visual culture. As seeing beings we observe and respond to pieces of design daily, often in the same manner in which we observe and respond to pieces of art. Poyner writes this about pieces of design: “The sensory, intellectual and emotional satisfactions they offer as pieces to look at, think about and react to—as well as to use—are akin to the experience of sculpture.” (Poyner 3) A piece of design can ask questions and a piece of design can evoke emotion.

Art functions as an intellectual and emotional playground in our fast-moving, highly pragmatic world. It serves an intangible function that is contested, and perhaps to some, unnecessary. The Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project of the 1930’s and 1940’s revealed a moment in our county’s history when art was considered necessary. Artists were given employment opportunities and unprecedented (and unrepeated) equality in the eyes of the government. The work of a poster artist was just as important as the work of a crane operator.

Art can be an accessible lens into inaccessible issues. Artists have long exposed public sentiment on controversial matters through their work. Art can tell a story, can expose valuable truths, and ask questions. These are all necessary parts of the human condition.

Art can be decoration. This idea isn’t derogatory, but instead reveals our desire as a society for the presence of compelling visual elements within everyday life.

Art can create community and art can create change. Contemporary and historical movements and genres within the art framework have united neighborhoods, nations and cultures.


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