I am often burdened with the cumbersome task of trying to explain the difference between an artist and a designer: or perhaps more specifically, the difference between art and design. As articulate as I would like to believe myself to be, I have yet to draw a definitive line between the two. I don’t believe the case to be that my analysis has failed to render a clear definition for each, rather that the definition for the latter is not one that postulates a disambiguation that removes it from the former. In fact the two, at least as concepts, are inseparable: it is akin to removing orange juice from an orange. Yes, one can remove (or extract to be more precise) orange juice from an orange, but one cannot remove orange from orange juice, so to speak. Namely, design is an inherent part of art, a component that despite being one that can be isolated, will always evoke the whole.
Up until quite recently, the term used to describe a person whose profession involves creating visual interpretations (tangible or intangible), which are intended to solve a client’s inability to generate revenue, was graphic artist. I am not quite sure about the history of this terms evolution, but am certain that at some point, it’s transition to graphic designer was at least in part due to a consensus among “artists” to want to be removed from the association to the very commercial and consumerist culture they were so ardulently opposed to. I am also almost certain that designers where only too relieved to be disassociated with the preconceptions associated with being labeled an artists. The fact is however, that in creating a work of art, an artist must pay very close attention to it’s design, and in order for a designer to succeed in exceeding said client’s expectations, he must strip it of it’s art. This may sound cynical, but it may be better illuminated by referring to what I believe to be the most concise definition of the term art I have ever come across: a German poet and playwright named Bertolt Brecht once said that “art is not a mirror held up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it”. Art, as a discipline, exists to redefine universal truths, and to challenge at all times the conventions that stagnate progress. A designer cannot afford to employ this methodology. A designer’s aim is to solve a practical problem, using language and form: he cannot attempt to redefine the world around him to eliminate the problem; it is inherent in his approach to attack the issue post hoc.
I received my BFA from The Ontario College of Art & Design: a university which has struggled with clearly identifying the difference between the two, and which has suffered in purporting a solid identity (evident in the fact that it has had 3 different names in the last 15 years). OCAD University (as it is now known) offers two undergraduate degrees: BFA and BDes. The two faculties divide the student body, which adds to the confusion. Design cannot stand alone, and neither can art for that matter; the two are in a constant state of inter-connectivity. When OCAD U students are asked to choose a major, essentially they are being asked to be defined as either an artist or as a designer. I happen to believe that this is erroneous, but I found a way around it, as I always do —the good designer that I am— I did my minor in Communications Design. So yes I am a classically trained artist, poised to challenge the rigid parameters of reality. I am also a designer, aware of the tactile world my ancestors worked so busily to create, and trying to find ways to build upon that foundation. What’s the difference between art and design? My best answer is: I don’t know.