Art in and of Design

I’ve been thinking about the distinction between the artistic and commercial aspects of what we do as designers. I haven’t come to any conclusions but here is what has been running through my mind.

There is occasionally the feeling, particularly in young designers (me) that more “commercial” work offers less freedom of expression. I suppose in some ways this is true. Corporate brand guidelines are generally more restricting, the tone more conservative and the outcomes often quickly absorbed into the everyday monotony of business and capitalism and our lives. But then, freedom is not a necessity for the creation art. Working within boundaries is a reality of anyone working creatively, no matter how FAR OUT you are. Art exists in provocation, an emotional shift caused by the composition of elements within boundaries of experience. These rules might include the constraints of medium, colour, social class, budget, human perception, etc. and designers are communicating within these boundaries every day.

Design’s link to commerce is our artistic advantage.

Maybe it’s the fact that our work is directed by an outsider (a client) with their own set of goals and expectations as a customer that limits our artistic ownership. But most art is for sale and its value is determined within a commercial market of its own with the big players mostly linked to big corporations. Successful Art communicates truthfully whether someone pays for it or not. The value of design work is based on time and labour, but also creative or aesthetic expertise, which basically amounts to artistic skill.

I suppose you could think, “So what, being a designer is more than being artistic. There is marketing strategy, awareness of business, quoting etc” and you might be right. What frustrates me is that with clients, designers struggle to interact comfortably (at least in the majority of circumstances) as an artist. An artistic vocabulary can almost sound embarrassing, but it is these exact qualities – emotional, cryptic, abstract – that they are most importantly engaging graphic design services. It’s as though art is what we do alone, secretly in our studios – whereas graphic design is like a wall of financial assurity and sensible creative pragmatism.

I am of course speaking from the perspective of a designer working in Sydney, and maybe it is different elsewhere.

Designers secretly being artists

Occasionally one feels that they are being artistic when they’re within the creative process, alone, by the light of a computer monitor crafting a grid structure considering the historical or emotional impact of ones own work, but then in the presence of a client be reduced to pseudo marketing BS that sounds like ‘value added’ as opposed to ‘starving lefty artist’ – particularly relevant to students and recent graduates who are looking for a ‘cool’ job.

Perhaps commercial artist or graphic artist fits us better (though I am strongly for a single name industry term that business can ‘get’ and Graphic designer is the best for this purpose).

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