Art vs. Design ... (See I put a 'vs' in there largely implying some sort of disharmony)

I often get asked "Gala, what's the difference between art and design?" It's one of those questions where I'm suddenly in a minefield, a maze - I see all the connections, I take a second, I zoom in - I contextualise - find myself and then define a box, a frame, an answer.

The box is never the full picture, and I find it extremely frustrating having to define a system or process. The problem with generalisations is exactly that - I'd much rather have a discussion - and visualise from all possible angles and perspectives. It seems to me that nobody seems to have the 'time' anymore. It seems to me like the value of time is continually shifting - becoming shorter whilst our lives are speeding up (Im with Paul Virillio on this one in terms of what this is doing to our communities). Being a holistic thinker and having to explain things in a cartesian ontology means supporting a value system where some ideas hold value over others. Academia is strongly rooted in this linear and hierarchal system, strongly supported by the scientific notion of 'weighted evidence'. But what of life's cyclic nature?

So when I get asked the question I kind of feel like my brain has a wee seizure (haha!) and my initial reaction is to make some horrible noise to communicate it all like "blaaarghshfkhsfkhs" these are the things that have occurred to me lately, and I think it will be useful for me to write down.

  • I see design as highly influenced and framed within modernism.
  • I see art as post-modern (either re-constructive or de-constructive).
  • I see myself either falling into one or the other depending on circumstance.
  • I struggle with both - because of the influence of the other (po-mo vs. mo)
  • I am in love with where and when they meet, reference each other or reference themselves.

Lately I have been very attracted by the work of Barbara Kruger because she bridges art and design, I'm attracted to open source, and the idea of tool making and even design anarchy - hell why not make the most of both po mo and mo!

...but largely I feel guilty when I design because:

  • It is hard avoiding the pitfalls of modernism when all the rules (hard truths) around design are based on it.
  • It is hard working with myths as that's the framework design uses to aim at users. 
  • It is hard treating 'the sign' with 'value' when the post modern part of myself believes that we are now largely living in a world of 'empty signs' (due to the myths) (and I am reinforcing this)
  • It is not my place here to be ironic, it is my place to deliver a message.
  • Within design there is am emphasis on convergent thinking over divergent thinking, (hey one's before the other in the process right!) to me this impedes on creativity.
  • Due to the above point 'process' is often devalued compared to 'end product'
  • Design often uses 'art' to disguise itself and make myth luring (aesthetics over function)

I guess at the end of the day as long as I'm aware of these factors, and question the true worth of my work then I'm doing OK - luckily enough I'm in educational media - a field where communication is taken critically and at a user level!

So, next time someone asks "What's the difference between art and design?" I can say, "Well if you were wanting a black and white answer,  I'd say design is more rooted and beholden to modernism whereas art is in a post modern era and thus largely less restricted by social norms"

I give myself a hug, it's ok to acknowledge that the question strikes a chord with me and my self conceptualisation as both an artist and a designer.

Its OK to wear two hats.


Barbara Kruger

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