The Difference Between Art and Design

I’ve been around art and design all my life. I was raised by an artist who encouraged my creative talent from a young age. However, despite what seemed as a head start, it still took a long time for me to develop my understanding of what good art and good design really was. There wasn’t and still isn’t a straightforward answer. There is no course, no perfect formula to determine what constitutes a great design. There are plenty of guidelines you can follow and advice you can listen to, but at some point it just becomes kind of a gut feeling. These days I feel very confident in my roles as an artist and as a designer. I’ve found what art and design mean to me and the attributes I consider most when creating a new piece.


To start, there is a difference between art and design. I’ll speak about art first. This may get a little intangible, but hang in there with me. Both art and design are highly personal topics. What speaks to one does not speak to the other. There’s no “best” way to create art. We know there are concrete principles that work well at a foundational level. Contrast, pattern, rhythm are all basic components in art. The beauty though, is the variation of approaches different artists take. I believe what makes a work of art great is a subconscious power behind creation of the piece. An artist can be trying to make a statement or send a message using their work. Others just want to create something beautiful with no other ulterior motive. Both motivations are completely valid in my eyes. What makes it a great piece is a large amount of passion and confidence behind the myriad of ideas that are perfectly curated and cultivated into a single work. 


Personally when it comes to a painting, drawing, or sculpture what I find most interesting is being able to see how an artist interprets and represents subjects or concepts through their work. It’s a raw, direct look into how someone else perceives these subjects or recalls these feelings. An artist could spend their whole career painting the same house over and over, each time viewing it through a different perspective. Looking at my own work, I like working with dramatic color combinations because to me, the world really is that colorful if you look for it. I also like to challenge the idea that color has a predisposed meaning, or is only appropriate for certain subjects. To me, color doesn’t have a motive or a statement to make, it just is. It exists to be used.


An issue I often come across is that for many people, art and design mean the same thing. Yes, they are closely related, but there’s a difference between the two disciplines. Design is creative work that solves a problem, and it uses art as a tool to create the solution. With fine art, there are very little, if any, restrictions. Design however, always has a set of parameters that you have to work within. And every project has its own, different set of rules that you must abide to. Beautiful, artistic works are found in architecture, but these designs also must comply with building codes, accessibility regulations, structural safety, budget constraints, and ultimately must serve the purpose they were originally built for. Creativity is present, just woven within the confines of the necessary parameters. If a design doesn’t solve the problem it set out to solve, then it isn’t a good design. If a person creates a gorgeous chair, but one you can’t actually sit in, then the chair is not a good design. A great work of fine art maybe, but not a great work of design. 


Along that line of thought, good design is not always beautiful, or even noticeable. There is a saying in the design industry that “good design is invisible” and there’s some real truth to that. This is when, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a design works so well that you don’t even notice it. For example, you will always notice a door knob that doesn’t work very well, but you’ll rarely notice one that works the way it’s supposed to. So where’s the difference between good and great? Great design, in my opinion, takes it one step further. Great design is when a design works so well and appeals to your senses in such a way that it becomes a joy to use. The problem is solved, and you are left in awe by the solution.


Both art and design have an important role to play in making our lives better. Art is the pure form of expression, while design creates beautiful solutions that fulfill a need. I love to fluctuate between the two and explore both directions. Sometimes, I just feel the need to create unrestricted by the confines of rules and parameters. Other times, I relish the challenge of creating a design for something beautifully functional. We started Citra Studio to celebrate both disciplines. Some of my artwork is already up for sale, and we are on the cusp of releasing my very first Citra Studio design! Make sure to follow us on Instagram or Pinterest to keep up with the latest news. We know you will love what we have coming up. 

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