The Difference between Art & Design?

 I have heard all the pros and cons since my college days, peppered with condescension and ridiculous territorial outbursts; who like to get their hands dirty and who don’t.

These were the days before the lines blurred and when you became aware that all that tedious art school training and those ‘boring’ classes in life drawing, composition, still life and art history, were leading you to understand the difference – or maybe the similarity.

Simply, design and art, to my mind are parts of a single process; the skill of creation.
The ‘design’ is akin to the ‘cartoon’ or sketch created by Michelangelo, before the process of painting began.  It is the organization of the space, the planning of component parts and the placement of them in relation with each other.

God created the Heavens and the planets and earth, then he worked on the detail.  The design is how the idea is planned out.  Oh yes, it carries an infinite amount of detail, precision and styling, because it is the resolution of the language to be used in communication of the message.


In music, sonata form is one of many formats which describes the design of a piece; exposition, development and recapitulation, being the three defined areas which together make a sonata.
The opening theme, or exposition, is established, then the theme is developed and takes a creative journey through endless variations, only to merge those variations with the exposition, to become the recapitulation and climax of the piece.

Design creates the framework for the nuances of creativity to fly, free of unbalanced constraints.
It is a foundation.

The creation becomes art when it is adorned with the details of its story.  In the minimalist ‘less is more’ Zen culture, space between components of the story are as important as the contents, and sometimes more so.   As an elderly painting tutor once told me, “anyone can put paint on a canvas with a brush.  The art is to know when to take the brush away.”

Often, we are influenced or just plain carried away with what we are doing.  It is the experienced practitioner of art and design who knows and can interpret when to stop.  Again, knowledge of the framework and the creative interpretation of the components and ideas, working hand in hand and the characteristics controlled, by the artist.


Art and Design are married and when they make love they produce the beauty of Versace, or Picasso, or Eminem, Orton, or Shakespeare.

I have often heard the argument that “honest art is created without the market in mind – you are simply creating. Design is created with the market in mind – and the medium does not matter. If you’re a musician or painter, and purposefully crafting your work in order to sell, you’ve become a designer.”

saleI would tend to agree if design was solely associated to the world of commercial art, pumping out the roughs by coffee break and the finished work by lunchtime.  But commercial art is the fast food of the high street graphics and printing industry, which leaves little to commend it in any area of art.


I suggest that creation deals with two distinct elements, form and function.  How it how it appears and how it performs.  Although it is easy to apply this to a present day product, ‘created with a market in mind’, it might not be so clear when you apply it to a painting.

Again there is a simple answer.  A painting’s primary function is to communicate a message and solicit a response from the viewer to the image.  The artist painted it with some emotional response in mind.  If the viewer responds the function is successful.  The form speaks to the picture’s visual appeal.  Most artists create to communicate messages.  Designers of advertising mechanisms, clothing and toasters etc. communicate messages too, mostly about appeal and usability – function and form.


So, with my humble experience and my cap in hand to all the young market driven ‘Turks’, who never really got the chance to play with plasticine or children’s wooden building blocks, before they got an ipad, remember that Paul Klee, one of the most influential lecturers in 20th century design, was one of its most revered artists/ painters.
Corbusier and van der Rohe hand drew their plans and that the Gods of design history, especially Charles and Ray Eames, were very much aware of their sense of art and creativity.

The sooner that those who divide the two, embrace them both as one, the better designers and artists they will be and beyond the scourge of marketeer driven design, we may yet again encounter a twenty-first century renaissance in beauty, humanity and art.