Art vs. Design

What’s the difference?

Throughout design school and after attending, I have always been fascinated by this conversation and relative debate; what is the difference between art and design? Does it matter? Why argue about it?

ART is defined by the English oxford dictionary as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

DESIGN is defined by the English oxford dictionary as “A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made.”

We like to think of this as beauty vs. function.

In art, you have everything from abstract and surrealism to very accurately proportioned realism. You have this entire spectrum of works, and if it came out of someone’s gut, and if for any reason it exists, it can technically be called art. I think that that element infuriates people, because as humans, we all want to be able to label things and neatly categorize them. Art is the antithesis of organized reasoning. It comes from the gut. It’s emotion. It’s raw, and it truthfully doesn’t have any rules. We would all prefer it to be beautiful, but even beauty is absolutely subjective.

Design, on the other hand, can be explained moreso as art that functions or communicates. You are using rules and aesthetic guidelines to create something that can function and operate for/with a purpose. This is a much easier thing to discuss and understand, because the rhythm and pattern that is used to communicate something is seen in its ability or inability to function properly. If you were to design a beautiful chair that can’t hold you up, you technically would be able to say that it was poorly designed, as it isn’t doing its job in functioning.

Alternatively, if something functions well AND is beautiful to look at, one would simply say that this is well-designed.

This ultimately comes down to functionality. Art doesn’t need to function; design has to function. You can look at art and have any reaction to it, and it doesn’t take away from its subjective value as someone’s piece of personal artwork. Design can be as two-dimensional as color and graphics, or as complex as a building or bridge/furniture design. But, the functionality matters inarguably. You can look at it all day long, but on some level, it has to work well.

Either way, this is a fun discussion to participate in as a creative person and we would love to know your thoughts! 

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