In graphic design, when professionals create any kind of visual imagery, their intention is to convey artistically emotional and visceral response. The specific objective is to communicate ideas that already exist and apply that idea to a particular purpose. An artist, on the other hand, aims to create an emotional and intellectual connection between their visual art and the viewer.
While the artist is conveying a message to the viewer, the designer is appealing the audience to use the product or the service. This primary difference in purpose is fundamental. But it is also a paradox. Both types of skills are eager to create their own visual images with compositions and interpretations that communicate their ideas and engage the viewer. How are their messages going to be interpreted and received by the audience?
Definition of Graphic Design and Visual Arts
Academically, a graphic designer is a professional who uses text and images to convey a message or a concept to the audience. The term was coined by the American illustrator William Addison Dwiggins in 1922 in reference to himself. Dwiggins earned his living as a lettering artist and advertising designer. His work involved also typography, book designing, illustration and calligraphy. Dwiggins considered himself a Modernist, but of an independent and pragmatic character – the owner of an inventive stencil technique who brought a lyrical form of creativity to our printed pages.
“Ornament is a music of space”
Visual arts, on the other hand, is the expression of a new idea, a new concept, a new message that comes from the personal or private that the artist wants to publicise to their audience. Mostly, the artist will risk many things to protect the integrity of their creations. Their answer is deeply personal. It is emotional. It is an enjoyment of the process of art-making.
Andy Warhol, for example, was part of the pop art movement in the Sixties. He said: ‘I just do art because I’m ugly and there’s nothing else for me to do’. But he is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century as he pushed beyond the reach the notion of modernist artistic authorship in abstract expressionism.
The Catalan Surrealist painter Joan Miró looked for ideas of freedom in his personal journey. ‘I work in a state of passion, transported. When I begin a canvas, I’m obeying a physical impulse, the need to throw myself; it’s like a physical outlet’, he quoted.
Equally Important, Not the Same
“Design is a solution to the problem. Art is a question to the problem”
Both crafts are part of the creatives engaging the world with art and design. Graphic designers present visual solutions to communication problems. An experienced designer can decide which fonts, styles, colours, and images resonate with a certain market to get the intended results. The artist presents ideas that trigger an attitude. They bring ideas to the surface. Both skills can be used interchangeably to create unique work and are even better when used together. Art and Graphic Design will produce the balance to keep the project on track.
The symbiotic relationship between artists and designers
There is a huge potential for a symbiotic relationship between those professionals. The debate about whether graphic design can be classified as art will probably never stop, though. In my opinion, it is. I believe graphic design is just a different kind of art, as it is aimed at a goal. It has a different set of aesthetic standards, distinct ways to be interpreted and appreciated. Along with art, it performs a different function and purpose that requires an artistic view to do it.
A non-artistic person can learn the skills of designing, but I don’t believe they will become good designers without the imagination and creativity of an artist. One complements the other, in my opinion. There is great freedom when we connect both skills to produce effective and efficient design solutions that any client will be happy to have.
Graphic Design Characteristics that make it different than Art
This underlying structure makes graphic design different than art. And it is easily understood: the target audience is not the same. As someone already said, the principles of design are the same but intentions and audience differ.
In my opinion, both professionals have much to learn from each other. They speak different languages to communicate a similar message to their target audience.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.