That Old, Big, Unanswered Question
I have often interrogated myself on the relationship between art and design, trying to understand when they are far from each other and when they overlap. In my pursue of a satisfying answer, I discovered to be in good company. This insightful article by John O’Nolan breaks down the question in multiple aspects. But if I have to find an univocal answer on what design is and why art is different from it, I believe the secret lays in the artist/designer purpose.
The main dissimilarity I see is in the fact that art is created for the pure enjoyment or the need of the artist, while design is a “client-oriented” field; a design project is in fact shaped to achieve a specific goal. For this reason, I believe that design cannot be strictly included in the visual arts category; on the other hand, it is also true that design often uses the language of art. The two subjects share principles of composition such as balance, hierarchy, repetition, and flow. Of course, the creative component is an essential element as well.
While in a real-work situation my priority is to get along with the client’s needs, in college projects I used to develop my ideas with an approach that I recognized as completely mine. This gave me more flexibility in the execution. In this case, the borderline between design and art gets thinner, since creativity becomes the primary aspect of the project.
Although design is my main interest, I can see the value of art and I appreciate the strength of the message that an art piece sometimes carries with it. Artists from every period and geographical location have expressed their inner conflicts through their work, and also interpreted the age in which they lived. But Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Russian Constructivism, and the other design movements did not impose their style by visually representing their time as well?
The old dispute over what is art and what is design has still not been solved, and sometimes I see both of them in a work. In a way this is positive; the human need for cataloging and schematizing every life aspect can at times become a futile obsession. Instead, I believe that the relationship between art and design resembles the concept of life itself: everything can be said on it, but no definition can describe it absolutely.
And while we will keep looking for a solution to an unanswered question, I will enjoy Piet Mondrian’s “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow.” Mondrian’s work represents more than others the missing link between two worlds. Art and design, so distant and so close.