Art has become a very generic term nowadays that is thrown out there way too often in far too many situations to describe something that people usually do not understand completely. It is a term that has become something to describe anything marvelous and something that amazes a person to the point of being, well, amazed. As such, the term has lost its meaning. Good job people, art has become a concept on the same level as the word ‘cool.’
This is somewhat understandable, as it takes understanding, experiences and willful research to realize the difference between graphic design and art. Of course, as we all know people either do not do any research or understand new things that challenge their existing paradigms. Nevertheless, it’s a paradigm shift that needs to take place not only on personal level, but on high-cultural level as well. There are somewhat healthy number of people who can make the difference between art and design, but that number is vastly smaller than the number of people who just go with the flow and ignore the difference.
In a way, I’m running a damn awareness campaign here.
One of the main reasons why illustrations are not art is the starting point with design, where the main goal is to appease the customer rather than commenting on cultural and historical phenomena, or depicting some issue that is innate to art. Design’s core purpose thus is very industrial and serves to make make the customer happy with while bringing in money to the designer/ company. A designer is tied down to serve the customer to the fullest extent and disregard any of his own opinions and wants; design is completely objective whereas art is subjective.
The second main thing is that design is actually problem solving. There is a problem, eg. a website has a need for a specific layout, or an amputee needs a new kind of artificial leg due to his choice of sports, and it’s a designer’s task to solve this problem through research, hypotheses and alternative to create the best solution possible. Through this design is also understanding people and their needs as the customer and user. Graphic design and illustrations that stem from it are this at their best; the designer needs to understand colours and shapes that trigger wanted reaction in the user, be it to guide the user to a point or inform the user of something. As such, graphic design and its illustrations serve the customer/ user.
Art on the other hand is creating something that might evoke a response of some kind from the audience, and it is about having a point of sorts in many ways. Art has no other purpose than being art and has no rules it needs to adhere to. Art serves art itself. Sometimes I hear an argument that contrasts selling art to other people and how this is the same as doing design, thus design being art. That’s not the case, as art has been always sold, and yet it’s main purpose has not been to make money even being an artist is a profession and a way of making dough. This is due to design stemming from classical arts just like many other things. Design has its roots in the Industrial Revolution and the design that we mean and know starts from there. While you could technically describe a pot from the Antique as Design retroactively, it’s more withing the lines of being a piece of work made by a craftsman. It’s something like what happened cars and the horse carriages, where cars were first know as the horseless carriages until they become known as cars. Nobody calls cars as horseless carriages in everyday language nowadays, unless they’re stuck up idiots.
Art is there to depict human need; design is there to fulfill it.
There’s a huge difference in how artists and designers think; an artist can wake up in the morning and think what he should do today while a designer wakes up in the morning and thinks how he could accomplish today’s task so that the customer is satisfied. While both people can get inspired and exaggerate, the way these often are realized are different as is the end result.
At this point we should already know a point where we can differentiate what separates illustration from art. Pretty pictures is something that illustrations and art share on very skin surface level. However, pretty illustrations are not art, no matter how you try to get around it. Sites like DeviantArt and Pixiv are filled with people calling their illustrations art and these people are dead wrong. Very few people do art there, and even less do good art.
I assume that you may have a poster in your room where you’re reading this. I have one that I bought in 1998 and it depicts Mai Shiranui. I also have another one depicting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Then, I have four pieces of art; three paintings and one drawing. The first painting depicts two young women collecting flowers and hay, the second depicts my old summer cottage, the third is a spray painting by my elderly brother depicting an interstellar icescape. The drawing depicts a rabbit sitting under a tree. Out of all these three, only the Mai Shiranui poster is design. The illustration is designed to attract the customer with the character’s own assets. It’s there to sell itself. It has no value as a piece of art, but it has every value as an illustration.
The three paintings and drawings on the other hand are art. They depict something that has a meaning and hold a value of something else than commercial money. They are subjective.
While art has become a throwaway term, it still maintains some level of caliber with it. Far too many people get offended when art is taken out of something. I’d compare it to people who call motorbikes as cars, and then somebody points out that the motorbike is actually a motorbike.