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A brief overview on Art and Design

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For an untrained eye who had never picked up art supplies since their last art project from high school might not grasp the idea of how art is more than colors and shapes meticulously rendered on a canvas. Chances are to them, art and design may be the same thing. The idea which separates art and design is convoluted and has been a debate for a long time. Even though both include the core idea of visually representing a composition using elements, the why's and how's could not be any similar for their very souls are different. To distinguish between the subjects of art and design, I shall share my ten cents on the matter.

  • The Purpose
  • Since my earlier days before foraying to the world of visual media, art has always intrigued me. In fact, my affinity towards art leads me choosing a career in design. Like others, the difference between art and design was a revelation very later after I started working as a designer. The realization that art and design differ for their purposes. Typically, the process of creating a work of art starts with nothing but a blank canvas. A work of art stems from a view or opinion or feeling that the artist holds within him or herself. They create the art to share that feeling with others, to allow the viewers to relate to it, learn from it or be inspired by it. By contrast, when a designer sets out to create a new piece, they almost always have a fixed starting point, whether a message, an image, an idea or an action. The designer’s job isn’t to invent something new, but to communicate something that already exists, for a purpose. The most successful designs are those that most effectively communicate their message and motivate their consumers to carry out a task.


  • The Intention
  • Another factor differentiating art from design is how the result of each is interpreted by their audience. The work of an artist intends to express emotions or a perspective that can be interpreted by the audience in many ways. The subjectivity of art connects people in different ways, that is why Mona Lisa's smile is still a debate. On the contrary, a design is an exact opposite. The fundamental purpose of design is to communicate a very specific message or command a particular action to do. If the design conveys a different message to the audience, it needs to return to the drawing table. With a good piece of design, the designer’s exact message is understood by the viewer.


  • The Perspective
  • As mentioned in a previous point art is heavily depended on emotions and tastes which may differ from the perspective of the audience. A taste is more about an individual’s particular likes and dislikes rather than the message they take away from a piece. Not everyone who would appreciate classics of Botticelli or Michelangelo would also cherish the likes of Alex Gray or Pollock. Similarly, design too has an element of taste, but the difference between good and bad design is largely a matter of opinion. A good design can be successful without being to your taste as long as it serves its primary objective of motivating people towards a specific action. A good design keeps function over fashion. For example, a software or application interface needs to be more practical and easy to use rather than being a showcase of artsy extravagant visual elements. Art in design is a bonus unless it beats the purpose.


  • The Creator
  • An artist can come from any place. What defines an artist is that they are they are born with an innate gift towards their craft. Of course, from a young age, they grow up developing their abilities. But the true value of an artist is the talent they are born with. But design is really a skill that is taught and learned. You do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer; you just have to be able to achieve the objectives of design. Some of the respected designers don’t use much color or texture, but they pay great attention to layout and structuring all of which can be learned without innate talent.


  • The Message
  • Many designers consider themselves artists because they create something visually attractive, something they would be proud for people to admire. But a visual composition proposed to achieve a specific task or communicate a particular message, no matter how beautiful, fails to be recognized as art. It is a form of communication, plainly a medium to the message it contains. Artists rarely call themselves designers because they seem to better comprehend the difference. Artists do not create their work solely to meet material requirements. They create it as a means of self-expression so that it can be viewed and appreciated by others.


Depending on how you look at it, the difference between art and design can be crystal clear or hazy. The two certainly overlap, but art is more personal and emotional, evoking strong reactions in those who connect with the subject meanwhile design is rooted in conveying a specific message leaving no room for interpretations.

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