Art and Design, Learning to Differentiate Them | Bypeople

Art and Design, Learning to Differentiate Them

Disciplines like illustration, Graphic Design and Fashion Design have always been considered as lower forms of art. Think of them as ugly and deformed cousins that the high arts have to hide away in the cellar and deny with shame.

We decided to deconstruct the very elements and principles taken into account in the creation of Art and Graphic Design, and compare their output to see how really deep is the breach between these two means of human expression. Are they really so far away? Is it fair judgment, or mere intellectual snobbism to consider Warhol Art, but to classify Milton Glaser as a mere commercial designer?

Is an artist more talented than a designer? Can a Benetton billboard be as influential as a painting in the Louvre?. We know this is a theme that ignites pretty strong opinions, so buckle your seatbelts an prepare yourselves for a bumpy ride. Different opinions are what makes this kind of article fun, so please don’t forget to leave your interesting and feisty comments and jump into the discussion.

So,What the Hell is Art?

Art is said to be the highest manifestation possible of the human mind. Art affects the senses, provokes thought and creates emotion. The influence of a work of art can go beyond the artist’s lifespan, deriving cultural change and shaping society even outside the scope of the work’s intention. Art is a bomb in people’s brains, ready to explode in the most unexpected moment.

So… Is that photograph of my dog pooping in the yard art?… That surely influences the senses right? My grandma sews some fantastic napkins. Are those art too?

Encyclopedia Britannica defines art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.”

Hmm, not very specific. Let’s try the crowd source version.

Wikipedia defines art as “the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect.”

Still a fuzzy definition isn’t it?

The scope of art is so grand, so omnipresent in every human activity and so varied in interpretation, that it is one of the most difficult concepts to understand and define.

When you go to a museum or a gallery, what do you consider art. The painting? The frame? The idea inside the painter’s head? The painting along with whole gallery?

Man Ray’s Priapus Paperweight is worth thousands of dollars and can be seen in the most important museums of the world, whilst that gnome your mom made in her arts & crafts course is just considered a functional object. And I doubt you’ll put it in your living room despite how much you love it.

ManRay-webdesignshockPresse-papier à Priape, Man Ray, 1972

The urinal in your house is far from being considered your most precious possession, but that same urinal can be considered as a work of art if perceived out of its utilitarian context. French artist Marcel Duchamp changed history of art forever by presenting a signed urinal at an exposition in 1917. This was a subversive act with a clever idea behind it, and that, not the object itself, configured what is considered today as the most influential artwork of the 20th century.

Duchamp_Fountain-webdesignshockFountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917. In 1999 a replica was sold for $1.7 million dollars at an auction at Sotheby’s.

The definition of art is too complex and implies many factors beyond the object or the mere skill of the performer. The merit of a work, the object itself or the author’s labor are not factors to be taken as sole elements to judge something as a work of art.

In 1923, Italian Critic Ricciotto Canudo published his famous “Manifesto of the seven arts”, were he defines architecture, music, painting, sculpture, poetry and dance as the main forms of artistic expression, and film as the seventh art which he declares unites all previous art forms and combines them with science. The validity of this Manifesto still holds up until today, and can be considered a starting point for modern aesthetics discussion.

Each of these art forms have their own codes, vocabulary and principles, depending on the medium and the means of expression. What can define a work as a great work of art is subject of intense debate, because factors as context, intention and perception are fundamental and have to be taken into account, but are subjective and hard to measure. Modern art has overthrown many pre conceptions of traditional art, placing complex and intangible concepts as the irony and the idea behind a work at a high praise even above it’s virtuosity, beauty and effort.

Nevertheless, there are certain principles that can provide the fundamentals for judging what can be defined as good practice. Great paintings are recognized for a reason… One of the things that makes a painting a “great” work of art is its inventive, cleverness and skill in the use of the principles and grammar of visual communication.

What about Graphic Design?

Graphic design is generally not considered as an art form, because it is a skill that, though sharing the same visual conventions with painting, is used in function of other interests different from those of the exclusive will of expression of the designer. Graphic Design is a creative process undertaken to communicate a specific message to a targeted audience, a knowledge for hire. It is conceived as “applied art” and not as an art itself.

The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.” Paul Rand

Graphic design is a relatively young discipline, the term itself was coined not even a century ago, in 1922 by U.S pioneer book designer William Addison Dwiggins.

In the late nineteenth century, the world was going through profound changes due to the industrial revolution. Terrible famines occurred over Europe (Specially in Ireland) and millions of workers lost their jobs to the new industrial processes. Poverty, unemployment and social turmoil inspired many artists and thinkers around to world to resist many Victorian social values as over-decorated art, mass produced objects, and elitism. In 1880, an anti-industrial influenced movement was originated in England by the name of “Arts and crafts”. This movement sought to revindicate manual labor and craftsmanship, returning to mediaeval materials and aesthetic ideals.  Some went even as far as to adopt traditional folk tools and processes to defy and depart from modern thinking.

It was under this influence, that traditional artistic skill began to be applied to books and utilitarian objects to give those objects an added value against industrialized production. Suddenly, a painter could earn much more by decorating a book, or painting a stool than creating a traditional painting. It was then when fine arts as painting and sculpture were no longer considered art when applied to books and table cloths and other everyday objects. And thus, Graphic Design was born. Crafts were considered as pure manifestations of the human will, far away from the pompous paintings of the wealthy, and the cold mass produced objects offered by the industry.

Bet many of you didn’t know that didn’t you? Up until those convoluted decades, art was… art, just one concept. No distinctions with Graphic Design. The Altamira Caves where not thought as the first graphic designs, They were paintings.

Basic Elements in visual communication

Painting, architecture, industrial design, photography and graphic design are all visual arts and share an almost identical set of elements and principles. These elements are the basic units of visual language and constitute the vocabulary of effective visual communication. Awareness of the basic elements is the first step towards an educated critique and “proper” creation of any visual composition, be it a painting or a poster. These are the basic concepts on which an art critic and an agency art director alike build upon their reasoning of what is considered “good practice”.



The line is the basic building block from which visual communication is built and can be conceived in its most straightforward definition as the trace that connects two dots. A line has visual attributes like curvature, thickness, direction and length. It is said that lines are the sole minimum needed to convey mood and generate psychological impact in the viewer. Horizontal lines, commonly found on landscape painting, can give the impression of calmness and amplitude.

Cezanne-WebdesignshockChestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan, Paul Cezanne, 1886

Vertical lines on the other hand, used in depictions of cities or forests tend to provoke the feeling of height and clutter. Curved lines are generally used to create a sense of organic flow and have a soft, milder impact on the senses, although extremely twisted curves can convey turmoil, chaos, and violence.

Rodchenko-WebdesignshockDiagonal lines are often used to invoke movement and action like in this 1925 poster by Russian artist Alexander Rodchenko.



Light can be defined as electromagnetic radiation in a range of wavelengths that can be perceived by the human eye. The colors we see depend on the temperature of the light source and the portion of the light’s spectrum that surfaces reflect to our eyes. Human perception of color has both psychological (“warm” colours as red and orange usually relate to passional and violent emotions) and physical components that have been studied and debated extensively by philosophers, physicists and artists through time, since the early notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, to the 20th century theories of Wassily Kandinsky, resulting in a widely accepted body of practical guides to color usage called General Color Theory.

Apple-WebdesignshockThe famous Apple Corporation logo by Rob Janoff.

Traditional color theory accepts Red, Yellow and Blue as primary colours and every other possible colour is the result of combinations between them. Colour is characterized by attributes such as hue, brightness, and saturation. Hue referring to the chroma or degree at witch a color can be perceived as a red, a blue, green or yellow. Brightness refers to the value of light or amount of white in a color, and Saturation is the degree of intensity of color. (For more physically correct science mumbo jumbo definitions, go to a real encyclopedia)

Mondrian-webdesignshockComposition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Grey and Blue, Piet Mondrian, 1921



Real space is three-dimensional.This concept in art is not constrained by the physical boundaries of reality and refers to the area where the work is going to develop, whereas it’s the digital canvas inside your favorite software or the land where a house is going to be built. Space accounts for the distance between the components of the work and can be categorized as positive, where your subject is located, and negative, the area surrounding it.

FlowMarket-WebdesignshockThe Flow Market website

Goya-WebdesignshockHe just cannot bear with his 98 years, Francisco de Goya, 1823



A Shape is an area in a visual composition that is different from the space surrounding it through line, texture or color. Two dimensional shapes can be described by basic geometry or organic forms. Geometric shapes are such as points, lines, curves, planes, triangles and polygons, while organic forms are blobs, mushes and living bodies.

Malevich-Webdesignshock Three Women, Kazimir Malevich, 1930

Bass-WebdesignshockPoster for the Movie “Anatomy of a Murder”, Saul Bass, 1959



Value pertains to the use of light and opacity given to each element in an art piece. It is through value that you define which components to stand out or which ones to hide in a composition. Value is the property that defines the relationship between light and shadow giving objects depth and perception. Value is also referred to as “tone” and in black & white works is replaced by contrast.

Carducho-WebdesignshockDeath of St Francis, Bartolomé Carducho, 1593

DirecttvwebdesignshockThe Sound of music, Watch it when you want to, Leo Burnett Colombia, 2009



Texture is the perception of the tactile qualities of a surface. Texture can be a real tactile experience as in Sculpture and Architecture, or implied through the use of line, shape and color as in painting and photography. In a two dimensional work, texture gives a visual illusion of how an object would be felt if real. (Hairy, rough, soft)

Six-feet-under-WebdesignshockHBO TV Series “Six Feet Under” DVD collection package.

Halls-WebdesignshockSingender Knabe mit Flöte, Franz Halls, 1625

Meyers-WebdesignshockLetter pressed business cards for Caroline Myers, Justin Belcher, 2009

Toyota-WebdesignshockOn Toyota’s mind, Toyota Website.

Principles of Visual Communication

The artist’s or the designer’s competence to communicate and influence the spectator resides in their ability to ingeniously manipulate and arrange the basic elements of visual communication. The rules and parameters by which the basic elements are composed constitute the principles of visual art. The artist determines what is the focus of interest and brings the elements together accordingly. It is the author who directs the eye of the viewer to what he wants to be seen in the composition. Elements are arranged with consideration of several factors to achieve visual unity (or disruption) in favor of a desired effect. Great artist’s and famous designers are true masters in the manipulation of the basic elements, managing to arrange these in such way to evocate thought, feelings and emotions.

Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.” Milton Glaser

The principles of visual communication govern the relationships between the basic elements and define the composition as a whole. Think of the basic elements as letters, and the principles of design as proper grammar rules. As with all human expression, these principles are a set of rules to follow, and also to break.


Composition is the primary rule of all visual communication, the basis of all visual work. The term means putting together, and pertains to the arrangement or distribution of the elements on the work space, be it a physical canvas or a web page. When an Artist or a Designer is creating a work, it is the first decision to make when translating the idea to something tangible. It is the relation between all your elements what defines the work. Composition is so important, that the word mistakenly or not, is often used to describe the whole art piece.

The Rule of Odds

The rule of Odds is the most simple yet tricky of all composition techniques. The rule states that human perception over a visual piece tends to be more visually appealing if the subject or main element is surrounded by an even number of elements. (Be it at each side, up or down.) That means that the composition will have an odd number of elements. (The even number of accompanying elements plus the main subject)



Yes, I know it sounds silly at first, but it is far from being a crazy caprice or a whimsical joke of some critic. The Human brain tends to feel more comfortable with symmetric patterns, because in symmetry there are fewer calculations to make in order to identify what we are looking at. The brain can process a half and quickly duplicate it to figure out the whole. With asymmetry, the brain has to process the two halves of what it sees in a separate way, thus demanding more effort, which produces the sensation un uneasiness and in dissatisfaction. There are also psychological factors to take into account, such as the subconscious awareness of prime numbers, as primes are indivisible they provide a natural sensation of definition.

DaVinci-webdesignshockThe Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

Movistar-webdesignshockMovistar, Sharks, Young & Rubicam Peru, 2009

The rule of space

When looking at a visual work that portrays a subject that is moving, or has an intention to move, or, has the presumption of movement, the eye will involuntary follow that movement expecting to find a continuation or a reason for the action. Because of this, the subject has to have negative or positive space in the direction of the implied or active movement, on the contrary the composition will be perceived as incomplete and impeded.

Platt_incomplete-WebdesignshockJust an ordinary photograph, maybe fun, but nothing special about it. We do not have the full scope of what the guy is doing.

Platt-WebdesignshockWith a little more negative space, this photograph ends up being this stunning shot taken by Spencer Platt for LIFE magazine.

For example, if you have a painting of the side view of a cowboy aiming with his gun, you can’t cut the painting on the gun’s barrel, otherwise the eye will follow the implicit movement to an dead lead. The viewer would have a better perception of the painting if there were some negative space (the desert), or some positive space (the victim) in front of the gun barrel. Another typical example while making a face portrait is to leave some negative space in the direction the eyes are looking.

xinhua-WebdesignshockNorth Korean divers compete during the men’s Synchronized 10 meter Platform Final at the Asian Games. Photograph by Xinhua/, 2010

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds states that any space intended to display a visual work, should be imaginary divided into nine equal parts (three rows and three columns divided in three) and that any element or elements that the artist should want to give importance to should be placed at the corners of the center square of this imaginary grid.

Delacroix-webdesignshockScène des massacres de Scio, Eugène Delacroix, 1824

Paravel Website

The rule of thirds is a simplification of the golden ratio which is a mathematical concept that expresses the relationship of two parts of a whole with each other and with the whole. Sounds extremely geeky doesn’t it? Two quantities are in the golden ratio, when the ratio between them is equal to the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity. When two things are in the proportion of 1:1.618, or 3/8 to 5/8, they are said to be in the golden ratio.



At least from the 16th century, artists, scientists and architects have believed that this “divine” proportion has an aesthetic pleasing effect on composition, and backed up their assertion by citing that this proportion is commonly found in nature, and even in the proportion of our bones. It describes the arrangement of petals on some flowers, the clock cycle of our brain waves and the population growth in some species. Even in our days, scientists keep finding the proportion, as in early 2010, when scientists discovered that the golden ratio is present also at an atomic scale.


The point of view dictates the relation between the viewer and the subject. The relative angle to the subject, and the position the artist chooses to depict the scene from will become the perspective from which the audience will perceive your subject.

Wenner-WebdesignshockChalk illustration, Kurt Wenner.

If an artist portrays the subject at the same level of his eyes, the viewer will appreciate the work with a sense of equality and dialogue. On the other hand, if the artist portrays the subject below his eye level, the audience will perceive the work having a sense of superiority in relation to the subject.

Two works may have identical subjects, but the perception will be totally different depending on the viewpoint.

Kazak-WebdesignshockMoscow Subway, Waldemar Kazak, 2009

Dali-WebdesignshockAscension of Christ, Salvador Dalí, 1958


Balance refers to distributing the elements on space in such a way that the viewer doesn’t perceive the main focus of the piece as grasping attention in such an exaggerated manner that the rest of the elements are put to spare. Imagine your work space as if it was a three dimensional plane, set on a thin, fragile center pivot. Elements must be arranged in such a way, that the plane should stay on balance and should not fall. Visual balance refers to a feeling of optical equilibrium between all parts of a composition.

Uncello-webdesignshockCrucifixion, Paolo Uncello, 1465.

Each element suggests a certain weight. De saturated colors tend to be perceived as “lighter” than saturated tones. Cool hues tend to contract weight, while warm ones expand it. The more brightness you add to a color, the more it will weight.

Horizontal Balance


Let’s try another three dimensional example. Imagine your composition as a scale. Horizontal balance refers to positioning elements at the right and left of the axis in such a manner that the scale doesn’t fall to either side.

Zurbaran-WebdesignshockStill life with Jars and Cups, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1635

Vertical Balance


Vertical balance refers to positioning objects up and down in such a way that neither give the perception of giving in to the other. Proper balance gives the spectator the feeling that the piece is not about to pull itself over.

Doritos-WebdesignshockDoritos Packaging concept, Petar Pavlov, 2010.

Radial Balance


When elements of a composition grow from a central line or are aligned around a central point, it is referred as radial balance.

Muse-Webdesignshock“The Resistance” album cover artwork, Muse, 2010

Clue-WebdesignshockClue virtual Mansion, HASBRO Website.

Symmetrical Balance

Let’s imagine a see-saw with two children of the same height and weight making the see-saw balance perfectly without moving at either side. This is symmetrical balance, when you have the weight equally distributed at both sides of the central axis. Symmetrical balance gives the sensation of solidity to a piece, but can also feel dull and uninteresting if not used appropriately.


You can achieve symmetry in two ways, pure and approximated. In pure symmetry, both elements at each side of the axis are identical, one half like a mirror reflection or the other. Animals faces are an example of pure symmetry. This type of balance has it’s place in certain works, but overuse can turn a work in obvious and boring.

Approximate symmetry on the other hand, happens when the two elements at each side of the axis have the same weight, but are not identical clones, as in our see-saw example.

Watchmen-WebdesignshockCentral spread of Watchmen #5, “Fearful Symmetry”, Dave Gibbons, 1986.

Asymmetrical Balance


Let’s picture the see-saw again. Imagine two thin kids sitting on one side, and one big fat kid sitting on the other. If the see-saw managed to balance perfectly, that is asymmetrical balance. Asymmetrical balance happens in your head, and not so visually, because it is achieved through completely different elements at each side, it happens when both sides of the central axis are not identical, but nevertheless appear to have same visual weight.

underground-WebdesignshockLondon Underground Tube Map, Harry Beck, 1931.


When an spectator gazes at a visual work, the eye does not scan the piece randomly. It is the way elements are arranged that guides how the work is read. In a great piece of visual art, it is the artist who chooses how the work is going to be scanned by the eye, not the spectator.

Movement is the principle of organizing your elements in such a way that it creates a desired path to be followed by the eye. This can be achieved by repetition, rhythm and action.



You can create movement by placing together elements that have something in common. A dotted line for example, is an example of creating a visual path for the eye to follow. You don’t always have to use identical clones, what counts is the visual similarity of the elements you choose to repeat.

Eyerman-Webdesignshock3-D Film Audience, J. R. Eyerman, 1952.



Visual rhythm is a concept very similar to the one in music.  Rhythm is created introducing variations in the repeated pattern or in the spacing between the elements. Slight variations in form and color, periodic changes in texture or value,  and regular variations in length and weight all account for techniques to produce rhythm throughout a visual piece.

Casablanca-WebdesignshockDetail form the poster of the Move “Casablanca”, 1942.


Action happens in spectators minds, when the brain tries to fill the gaps in the elements it sees. If you are looking at a picture of a falling bomb just an instant before touching the ground, your brain will try to answer the unseen outcome (the explosion) and give you the sense of movement. Action is the implied movement the artist gives to an element, be it throughout a pose, throughout direction or by weight.

Ross-WebdesignshockLiberty and Justice, Alex Ross, 2003.

Kandinsky-WebdesignshockComposition VIII, Wassily Kandinsky, 1923.


Also called dominance, Emphasis is to give importance to one of the elements or areas portrayed in a composition, rather that placing them all in the same hierarchy. Giving the same importance to each element in a composition makes it too hard to scan and process, while making just one stand out gives the gazing eye a clue to where to begin to scan. Never give total importance to a sole element, making it forget the rest of the composition. Every element must function in unity with the whole.


The area or element that is given emphasis is called the focal point or center of interest. The focal point may be the largest, brightest, darkest, or most intricate part of the composition, or the most contrasting element to its surroundings. No more than one component should fight for primary attention, on the contrary, many focal pints of the same importance will cancel each other out.

caravaggio_proporcionSaint Jerome in His Study, Caravaggio, 1605.

Prism_eyewear-WebdesignshockPrism eyewear, Sabotage PKG, 2009.

You can also give emphasis by exclusion, stripping detail or elements from the areas that you believe must function as subordinates to the center of attention. Good visual art is not about including elements, but rather of what’s left out. Focus on the essential of the message or idea being portrayed, and omit everything that doesn’t really contribute to the overall work. You know if an element can be spared when you take it out and no one misses it.

An artist knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry


If every element in a composition has the same properties, it becomes dull and uninviting as the eye will not know what to look at. Contrast is a way to gain interest and generate tension and thought. Contrast is achieved through difference; the greater the difference between elements, the greater the contrast. Too little contrast turn a composition into a dull and soft piece, while too much contrast can be confusing and way too harsh. Just the right amount of contrast engages the spectator’s attention in comparing various components of the work.

Fedex-WebdesignshockFed Ex Logo, Lindon Leader, 1994.

Differences in contrast must me obvious for the eye to understand them. These can be attained by variations in the characteristics of the main elements of visual communication. (color, value, size, texture, etc…)

Sin_City-WebdesignshockExcerpt from “That Little Bastard”, Franck Miller, 1996.


Often known as scale, proportion involves the relationship of size, color or quantity between the elements of a composition. A work is said to have a good proportion when the elements have a desirable relation of sizing and distribution and usually goes unnoticed. When the comparison between two areas or elements is out of balance it just pops out of the composition and becomes very noticeable.


Good proportion can be achieved through several means,

  • Arranging space in such a way that the eye does not perceive an unnatural mathematical relation between elements. Avoid splitting up your composition in halves, quarters or thirds, organic, subtle relationships between elements make more dynamic visual pieces.
  • Place elements with similar features together.
  • Major and minor areas are necessary in a composition, as everything will be monotonous if of sharing same size. But, these differences in size must not be so great as to make the the minor areas seem unrelated and therefore, out of balance.

Scotch_proporcionOverloaded, Service plan München, 2009.

Attack_of_the_web-Webdesignshock“Attack of the Web” Website, Gary Davison.


In visual art, reaching Unity is the closest thing to winning the Super Bowl, conquering for the first time the last level in Mario Bros, or scoring a winning goal in the last minute. Unity is the wrap up of what makes a work perceived as “great”, or “good”. It’s the attribute of giving the audience the sensation that no element is for spare, and that everything works together and “belongs” to the composition.

Unity in a visual work is the result of the application of all of the principles in function of an idea. Every element must be used in consequence of that idea in order for the message to be successfully conveyed.

Unity is accomplished when:

  • The work is viewed as one piece and not as separate elements on a same space.
  • The harmony and consistency of shapes, color and patterns gives the sensation of order.
  • The idea is communicated through form in a way they are inseparable.

Velasquez-WebdesignshockLas Meninas, Diego Velazquez, 1656.

SkyTv-WebdesignshockSky TV: Pool, DDB New Zealand, 2009

Coca_cola-WebdesignshockCoca Cola Logo, Frank Mason Robinson, 1885.

Did You See a Difference?

So, at the end of the day, graphic design and art are not so different are they? What do you think?

A designer is conceived very similarly to an engineer in a way that a designer’s involvement in a project has to be implemented under careful steps and defined regulations. Just as a programmer can’t just add for fun an interactive centerfold calendar applet to the software he’s working on, a Designer has to adhere to the requirements of the entrusted work.

But then a question arises. Are those constraints enough to impede that a designer can’t pour his individuality and inspiration into the hired piece? Is it impossible for a Designer to communicate something personal in a hired work?

Some three hundred years ago, there was this short guy with crazy hair that loved music. He worked for hire, composing music for kings, courts and aristocrats. He had a very disorganized life, which impeded him from creating lots of personal projects. Call him the eternal freelancer if you wish. And despite being his music created by request, with specific guides and tastes to comply, the guy managed to turn out many of the most astonishing compositions of all time. He’s music is so perfect it is said to provoke sensory reactions even in animals.

Already know who this guy was? He’s no other than Mozart.

Velasquez also was known for being an artist for hire, exercising his talent not entirely from free inspiration, but creating from his patrons explicit requests. Yes, Artists go through revisions, just as Designers do. Does that make Picasso a Graphic Designer? Or Vermeer? Velasquez and Mozart are recognized as artists, why not Alex Ross or Paul Rand?

I really don’t know but this is something here hard to swallow for me.

Artists work on pure free will. Designers don’t.

It is generally thought that artists work on pure free will. That their work is unattached to any set of instructions because their emotion and “soul” are the ones that inspire each movement of their hands creating a delicious ballet of color and form that will become art by pure grace of the muses of mount Olympus… That my dear readers I think is pure bullshit.

Great Art, as well as great Graphic Design, comes from rigor and education. We have just explored in this article that there are specific principles to follow, and that their good use is what constitutes great art. Inspiration and genius can be found in Graphic Design as well as in art. If an artist really does whatever he wants to do, the result would be a fuzzy blob of nothingness. Won’t you get bored if you could do absolutely everything you wanted? That’s like having the internet without a search engine.

The principles of visual communication are the result of years and years of evolution of human science and thought, and exist for a reason. Constraints and rules give structure and become the challenge that generates inspiration. A Software package, a brush, the gallery space and the client’s requests are all constraints to be tackled and solved in favor of expression. Human beings bring the best of them when constrained, not when let free.

Designers work for an audience, artists work for themselves.

That is not fucking true! They just work for different audiences. Every artist, as well as every Designer, pays the bills with their skill and talent. (if not, you are simply not good enough, have poor scamming abilities or are a true crazy genius that cares shit about everything like Van Gogh or Kurosawa)

Of course they make their stuff for an audience, nobody makes something for themselves because creation is born from Ego, from the need to express. Creating art for nobody is a contradiction in that sense and a lie. The artist that says he does his stuff for nobody is just hiding his mediocrity in a worn out Jim Morrison act. Don’t lend him a cent. He will never pay it back.

Art has purpose, even if the purpose is to not have any. That is to shock.

Art is judged by taste, while Design is judged by opinion.

Not! What the hell is taste after all?

To state such a thing is to abandon art judgment to the terrain of complete subjectivity. It is to declare that anyone, from Roger Ebert, to your dog trainer, can give equally valid opinions on a work of art. And that is not true. There is a significant objective factor in the judgment of a work of art. There is a huge history of art evolution, there are theories, movements, elements and principles. Art critique is a discipline that conveys training and academic education. (despite the fact that many art critics and agency art directors don’t know shit)

The judgment of Art and Graphic Design works begins with a major objective component based on formal principles and conceptual, philosophical and historical factors. Not just anyone can critique a painting or a poster, as not just anybody can train a dog or drive a truck. You can either like or dislike a painting or a logo. That IS subjective opinion and is completely valid. But you cannot say with a straight face that a visual work is just “bad” or “nice” based on pure subjectivity.

Designers don’t create anything new. They only communicate ideas from others.

Really? So, the UPS executives just grabbed their hands and shouted all together SHAZAM! and the logo popped out from thin air right?

Artists don’t ever, ever create from nothingness. Each artist has a prior existence, full of relationships, knowledge and experience to drive ideas from. Everything an artist does is a smashup of things the artist already knows and has inside. Just as humans are a product of two cells, not spontaneous combustion.

Graphic Designers create new things based upon an idea originated by others. Just as a screenwriter of an adapted play creates upon a pre existing story, or a plastic artist can create new art upon a “ready made” object. Ideas are a dime a dozen. No idea is completely original. Originality is the result of joining preexistent ideas. Nobody is a tabula rasa.

An artist is talented. A designer is skillful

This is one of the most insulting of common beliefs. WTF! and I really mean this. WTF!!!

What is talent? a god send ability that artists have implanted from birth in their genitals? Can talent be inherited as a mortgage loan?

Talent is nothing, just a predisposition to do something. and it doesn’t come in your genes, as you all know,(or not) behavior is not inherited, but learned. Talent is a behavior and be positive about it, there is NO such thing as hereditary behavior. You inherit biological structures. In plain English, you inherit predisposition to something. Like Cancer predisposition or lactose intolerance. But you cannot inherit the action of going to the super market and buying delactosed milk.

Talent is the result of a biological predisposition (for example, a fast pattern recognition) and the exposure to the right environment from which a behavior is learned. (parents fond of art, art school, a lovely blond in your 8th grade class that likes Renoir)

It is hard work and proper education what defines talent. Everybody has a predisposition for something, after all, we are the result of over six thousand years of genetic mix. But it depends on our environment to acquire the correct behavior to harness that predisposition. Great designers and great painters are made. Made through hard work, love and study. Lots of study. Great designers and artists all have conscious or unconscious knowledge of the principles above stated. There is no unseen metaphysical, romantic mumbo jumbo around it. The recipe is simple. Want to be a mediocre, average artist or designer? Anyone can. Read this post and paint or design anytime the “muses” visit you. Want to be a great designer or a great artist? Do your stuff EVERYDAY. Think, breathe, eat, and dream about your art. Work your ass off. Practice, practice again and then practice some more. Believe it or not, that’s all to it.

Photoshop can turn anybody into a Designer

Oh really? And a frying pan and the “Travel and Living Channel” can turn you automatically into a chef right?

This point is so obvious, and so ridiculous, I don’t even feel like explaining too much. Design is the result of a theoretical knowledge, that has to do with aesthetic and perceptual research. Design has existed long before Photoshop, as art has existed way before oil and brushes. You can master Photoshop and do something like this:

MIAUK-WebdesignshockMIA UK website. Careful, if you stare at this more than 10 seconds it will blow your brain out.

or create something like this with a pencil and paper:

Lipton-WebdesignshockThe three fates, Laurie Lipton, 1997. Just unbelievable!

Last Word

The breach between Graphic Design and Art is just the result of socio economical factors. It was a separation that had to be made to diversify knowledge and skill to make it accessible to a diverse market that increasingly demands for specificity of labor. The divisions of what is understood these days as Graphic Arts (Usability Design, Web Design, Interface Design, Icon design, etc, etc…) are just practical, and necessary for the art industry. Their differences have to do more with process than with substance. They all share the same principles and concepts.

The only distinction I see, is between great work and mediocre. Art is art, as a day has twenty four hours and breaking up is a pain in the ass.

Insult us, praise us or kindly donate your Lamborghinis. We can’t wait to see were this discussion will take us.

“Art is an idea that has found its perfect visual expression. And design is the vehicle by which this expression is made possible. Art is a noun, and design is a noun and also a verb. Art is a product and design is a process. Design is the foundation of all the arts.” Paul Rand

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