P1 in my Student Design Woes lecture series

Design vs. Art

my program at CCNY is a big fat hodgepodge of graphic design a multimedia art fused into one BFA track. Going in, I was much more keen on the art side not really understanding what graphic design was. Coming out, I can’t help but feel held back that I was stuck taking art courses when I should have been taking more design classes. Having worked in a gallery, taught painting to children in an after school program, studied art history in high school and college, and now graduating with a design focused degree, I have come to the conclusion that art is a pain in the ass. It serves no immediate/absolute function! It is art and therefor cannot be judged, qualified, or given really any kind of merit or value other than conceptual and artistic. My “art” is just as valid as any other “artists’”. HOWEVER, design on the other hand is virtually the exact opposite. Because it has specific goals and serves a direct and tangible purpose, it can be judged, qualified, valued, etc. And because of that, to quote Stanley Tucci design “is greater than art. because you live your life in it.” Your life is designed! And it takes a powerfully creative mind to do just that. 

I think it may stem back to my Type 1 class where I had to read Paul Rand’s essay on the play instinct. He argued that given absolute freedom, students produce no measurable work or quality. Once provided restrictions and rules around a given assignment, you start to see the real creative genius that is a human problem sovler. He was of course speaking of design students since the purpose of design is to visually solve problems. Art however can be anything and everything you want it to be. There is no problem that needs to be solved, i.e. there are no rules. Therefor to me, art has of late been coming across as trite and uninspired and a sloppy second to that of design. Of course I am biased as shit. Perhaps art is just a purer form of design, free to be whatever it wants. But good design does that too; it surprises you by becoming something unexpected yet still solving the problem at hand. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be SUCCESSFUL design. Art inherently cannot be successful or unsuccessful. It is simply art. The two seem mutually exclusive yet inextricably linked if that makes any sense. History tells of so much crossover between designers and artists including many of my professors. Maybe I’m just causing trouble here but I do think art and design are quite different and need to stay at arms length from each other. 

But when does art become design and vice versa? That one seems a bit too easy.