We’re all familiar with the world of art and design – a sphere of creativity, innovation, and hard work. Those of us involved with art and design, whether it be a hobby or a career, understand the intricacies of our own niche (watercolor painting, web design, contemporary mosaic, etc.). Usually, we can describe ourselves as either artists or designers, but it can be difficult to describe the difference between the two fields. Because art and design are so frequently lumped together and have many qualities in common, it’s challenging to draw a definitive line between them. It’s especially confusing to explain these differences to those in non-artistic fields: I can’t tell you how many times, as someone focused in art, I’ve been asked about a design project. I’d like to briefly break down art and design to make the distinction easily and universally understandable.
The simplest way to differentiate between art and design is to look at their use of questions: art poses questions, while design answers questions. Design is utilitarian by nature – it is a process of creating something new to be used for a specific purpose. For example, an interior designer may be faced with the problem of finding a wall color to complement a room’s furniture. The designer answers the question of what color the wall should be in order to create a comfortable room in which people will live. Art, on the other hand, is not inherently practical – it is a process of creating something to express an individual’s purpose or vision. Continuing with the previous example, an artist may paint a mural on a wall, not to be a part of a functional room, but to express a concept or visual aesthetic personal to him- or herself. This mural may raise a question about a political ideal, social structure, emotion, etc. and aim to evoke a response from the room’s inhabitants rather than function as a response to the needs of the inhabitants.
Even with these differences, it’s impossible to deny that there is definite overlap between art and design. They’re both creative fields that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. While it’s true that art doesn’t necessarily answer questions, questions must be answered in order to create art. Say I’m inspired by a particularly intriguing tree: I must ask myself what exactly it is about this subject that is so interesting (its shape? color? location?). I must next ask myself how I would like to portray this subject (abstract? realistic?) in order to express the reason it caught my eye and the medium I want to use to complete the project. The same goes for design – without technical and conceptual artistic skills, a designer would be unable to create successful projects. The pieces created by a designer are not strictly functional compositions and interfaces; there are expressive and unique qualities that make a garment, web page, or video game stand out, and there are technical artistic skills that must be mastered to successfully convey these qualities.
Given the nuances of art and design, consider what interests you the most. Do you want to create work that asks questions and expands on complex concepts? Do you want to create pieces that showcase your artistic skills while also providing a more comfortable and dynamic experience for those in, say, a community park? The skill sets required for art and design are similar, but the goals are what set them apart. Both are equally important, so choosing one path over the other is simply a personal preference. Put your talent toward your personal creative goals to make the most out of your work.
Tell us how you use your artistic skills in the comments below!