The people wanna know!

Graphic Designer, Mike Essl, has created isgraphicdesignart.com, a site that aims to answer the question via the time-honored tradition of internet polling. As of right now (the time I’m writing this), graphic design does appear to be an art, since 57% of voters have voted yes.

I’d like to take a moment to reflect on this topic. Below are two definitions of graphic design (both can be found by typing ‘graphic design’ into the search on Dictionary.com).

graphic design (Dictionary.com Unabridged)
noun. the art or profession of visual communication that combines images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience, esp. to produce a specific effect.

graphic design (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)
noun. The practice or profession of designing print or electronic forms of visual information, as for an advertisement, publication, or website.

Both do an adequate job of defining what graphic design is, but I found one thing particularly striking about the American Heritage version – it’s omission of the word art. Perhaps this is why this debate is still even relevant. Obviously, there are two opposing camps, the folks who say ‘No,’ and I’d venture to say they’d agree with the American Heritage definition, and the folks who say ‘Yes, graphic design is a profession but it is also an art.’ Well, just what exactly is art? A dictionary.com search resulted in way too many definitions to post so I’ll cite the one I found most relevant for our purpose here.

Art (Dictionary.com Unabridged)
noun. 5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.

Graphic design certainly employs the techniques of art, that being it adheres to certain aesthetic criteria. So, I’d say that pretty much makes it art. But that’s too simple a way to look at it. Those who don’t feel graphic design is an art are essentially comparing it to what is considered fine art. Fine art is defined as art produced or intended primarily for aesthetic purposes. However, the definition found on dictionary.com includes graphics, among its list of examples. Prudently, it also offers a link to the definition of commercial art for comparison. Commercial art is defined as graphic art created specifically for commercial uses. This is where things get tricky. One’s view on this topic is determined by their definition of what art is, and whether or not the intended use of a work determines its classification. Those in the No Design Is Not Art camp argue that graphic design is not fine art, therefore it is shouldn’t be classified as art at all.

I believe there is no separation between art intended for commercial use and fine art. Although, their purposes may differ, both require a mastery of skill and technique. Also, the processes of creating fine art and commercial art, while different in some ways, are inherently the same. Whether an artist is commissioned to do a piece, or is stricken by some divine insight or inspiration, he ultimately has to sit down and express his idea using a chosen medium. The same can be said of design. The difference is that this commission or outpouring of divine inspiration is a direct result of consideration on an intended purpose, i.e. a clients needs. In both cases, the end result is art. Whether or not it is intended to sell dog food, or depict The Virgin Mary, doesn’t change the fact that it is still art. It is art because it can be judged based on established criteria of what is considered pleasing to the eye. While design also takes into account other standards, such as ease of communication and effectiveness (does it sell lots of dog food?), the most basic standard is whether or not a design is interesting to look at. That alone makes graphic design art.

That’s my two pence. Check out isgraphicdesignart.com and lock in your vote. You may just determine the fate of all designers, past, present, and future.

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