Defining Art & Design

There’s a thin line between art and design along with both terms carrying a subjectivity to their meaning. I sought out to use those terms as classifications to distinguish different kinds of art and design so giving them definitions was the first step. Having them distinguished can help when studying, critiquing and/or using an item made by humans. I say “made by humans” because the kind of objects that can be distinguished between these categories are intentionally conscious, human-made things of any scale.

The first problem I came across was what do I call a finished design project? We use the term ‘design’ to mean a process of planning. Once the design is finished we call it whatever the design is, (e.g. a building, a car, a backpack) they aren’t called design pieces the way a finished art project is called an art piece. I settled on calling a general finished design a product. Having a term for a finished design helps to not confuse when I say design as a verb and a noun.

A design is a product made up of conscious decisions created to achieve a reaction or an understanding from an audience. Although sometimes a design choice can come about as an accident, majority of the time things are planned out using the design process. Anything and everything created or invented by humans is considered to be a product of design.

The purpose of a finished product is determined at the beginning of the design process, it is the reason to design the product. This reason is the answer to a problem. Once the product is finalized it can be critiqued as a good or bad design depending on how well it answers the problem.

The Design Process

  1. Identify the problem: identifying the problem, obstacle or question is important in order to give the design a goal and/or purpose.

  2. Research: looking up how things were done previously, alternate designs and learning how something is made can help make some design decisions.

  3. Create solutions: planning, sketching, measuring etc. - figure out some design solutions and understand why these decisions were made.

  4. Build, test and improve prototypes: create mock trials to see how the product will exist; notice any problems and fix the prototype until it’s exactly how it’s meant to be.

  5. Original, mass production: depending what the final product is, this step is about deciding on only having one product or mass producing it.

  • After finalization, the design can be judged as good or bad design by how well it answered the problem or question in step one.

There are two kinds of art: Expression and Appreciation Art. When a product’s main function is to entice the senses for aesthetic purposes or for expression only, the product is an example of Expression art. This also includes art that tries to communicate something to the audience such as a depiction of hell. Appreciation art can be anything created by humans or nature. Most commonly referred to as The Art of _______. This kind of art can be anything: The art of cars, the art of running, the art of flowers, etc.

Depicted:  Sign, 1925 — Wassily Kandinsky at LACMA.  This is an example of expression art.  Tony Flores .

Depicted: Sign, 1925 — Wassily Kandinsky at LACMA. This is an example of expression art. Tony Flores.

Expression art is used for decorative purposes, mainly, and can be any form of art (painting, sculpting, dance, etc.). It can also have a meaning meant to communicate something to the viewer such as a criticism on politics or story-telling. It is from the idea that the artist is trying to express themselves, or express something out into the world, putting intangible ideas or truths into 2D or 3D.

Appreciation art comes from the idea that art is beauty, anything can be art since anything can have beauty. It’s from the appreciation of anything and everything in the world. The reason for having the distinction is because designs can be appreciated art.

Although both design and expression art need conscious decision making to create something, it’s the intention of the creator’s final product use that determines which category it belongs in.

For example, a painting has many uses and can be profitable either way it’s used. A painting meant to be hung on a wall or placed in a frame to be looked at as decoration, with no utility use, is expression art. If the painting was made to be used as a book cover, it is a design.

Since multiple copies can be created of some products and expression art pieces, it’s the individual product that determines its label. Let’s say a foot-high statue was 3D printed to be used as a decorative piece in a vestibule, this is an expression art piece. Now a second statue was printed, exactly the same but is instead used as a paperweight, it is now a design. Same product, but different uses. It is also possible for an expression art piece to become a product and vice versa. Both designs and expression art pieces can be appreciation art.

The importance of having these three distinctions is to aid in forming strong opinions and intelligible criticisms. The best way to critique something is by knowing its process of creation, the creator’s intention  of use/purpose and by rating the product on skill and technique.

It’s an instinct of mine to try and organize anything I see — the designer part of me tries to organize it strategically. I felt the need to organize these as categories so that it’s easier when I begin discussing other art pieces and design products. If they help anyone else then by all means, feel free to use them.