Monday, April 19, 2004
Art v. Design
As part of Carnival this past weekend, CMU had an art sale, selling works by current students and alumni. Rachael and I purchased this painting by Joana Ricou, an '04 science and art student. We love its color, composition, and style. The delicate shading on the subject's back is particularly nice. It now hangs proudly in our hallway (until we get another house, where it will hang proudly in a room). Aside from some small pieces of pottery and some furniture, it's the first original artwork we've ever owned.
Art is, of course, all about desire. The other corners of the design triangle (useful and usable) don't really apply to, say, a painting. It's only about pleasure: pleasing your eye, and through your eye, your heart, mind, and spirit.
Art "succeeds" (if there is such a thing) if the artist is able to convey her subject (be it a bowl of fruit or Mona Lisa or the horror of war) in a manner that is both true to the subject and, importantly, to her own artistic expression (whatever that may be). Designers too have to convey content appropriately, but in the manner that is true to the subject and in the expression best suited to the product's users', not themselves. Artists have to be conscious of their audience, to be sure, but the stakes are lower. If a "user" doesn't understand a novel the consequences are less than if, say, a user cannot figure out how to pilot an airplane during a crisis.
Both artists and designers, I think, are searching for Truth with a capital T on paths that sometimes cross. We're both searching for ideals: ideal forms, ideal users, ideal expressions. And we're both engaged in a dialog with our audiences/users. Both artists and designers need to look inside for the physical, mental, and spiritual resources to create. We clearly have a lot in common.
But there are significant differences in how we work. The artist needs to reveal a lot more of those inner resources if the art is to be successful. The designer, however, has to not only draw upon those, but also take the (sometimes) radical leap into the skins of those who will use the products. The designer has more privacy, although, paradoxically, the projections into the souls of potential users can end up revealing as much about the designer as the user. This is especially true if the limitations of the designer hinder these projections through prejudice, ignorance, or laziness.
I'm not sure which is the harder profession. Having written several failed novels myself, I know how difficult it is to draw upon yourself and your world continuously for material. Then again, I didn't have to alter my vision to fit the needs of users or clients...
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