Defining our terms.

Art is not design.

Design is not art.

These concepts overlap, but they are not synonymous. Were we to create a Venn Diagram, it would illustrate this relationship perfectly.

Oh. Wait. I already did that.:

Before we go any further than this, we need to really define “art”. In this case there’s two definitions we need to be concerned with.

1. To say something beautiful, created by a person or people, is art.

A painting, a sculpture, a piece of music, a photograph, a ballet.  All of these are examples of which we are familiar.  There are many others, of course, but you get the idea.  To say that art is a beautiful thing is common and we know what that means when people say it.

2. To say a physical object, created by a person or people is challenging, describing, informing or otherwise making a social or cultural commentary.

These things may not necessarily be beautiful.  They *CAN* be and often are, but that’s not their primary purpose.  Their purpose is to get people to think about culture, relationships between people,  and society.  I tend to think of these things as “Art” and they are the stuff of which “Art pretension” thrives on.  They’re the sort of things that people stroke their chins over and say “hmm, yes” a lot about.

So having defined that for purposes of this post, I want to talk a little about design.

Design is purpose driven.  When you design a building, the building has a function. When you design a restaurant, that restaurant has a function.  The same thing can be said of anything one *designs*, from a catapult to a coffee machine.  You can design a knitting pattern and make a scarf. You can even use design in the process of making art- I map out a design for each egg that I create, but the finished product is not a design project. It’s a piece of art.  However, if I design someone’s kitchen, that’s a design project, no matter how pretty it is.

All of that brings me to a post that appeared yesterday on Dezeen.  Go have a good look. I’ll wait.

When I first saw this, the post had just gone up, and there were no comments to it yet. When I went back this morning, apparently I’m not the only one who wasn’t pleased. But what really bothers me is that the *supporters* of this work don’t seem to get that fundamentally, THIS IS NOT A DESIGN PROJECT. It’s an ART INSTALLATION.

Frankly, I think it’s a pretty good art installation.  I really mean that. I think that as *ART* (definition #2, though it’s not a bad looking object either) it works quite well. It conveys a clear message and provokes thought about the concepts it addresses.  In that sense, it’s very successful.

As a design project, this FAILS, completely.  It’s not *REALLY* a bookshelf.  It’s not. It’s designed to hold very specific books, intended to make a societal and/or cultural statement.  If you put other books on it, it ruins the intent of the artist (yes, I said it cause it’s not a design project and I’m not going to call it one.) So really, its only purpose is to make that statement, and no other. It does not serve *an actual function* beyond making the cultural statement.  The books, even though they’re being held by the shelf are only there *AS PART* of the overall statement.

It’s NOT DESIGN. It’s ART. I don’t think it’s BAD art, either. But It. Is. Not. Design.

Considering the fact that there are innumerable *DESIGNERS* creating oh, I don’t know, actual design projects that could be featured on what is supposed to be a design blog, the fact that Dezeen doesn’t seem to be too clear on what design is/is not and what art is/is not is… well pretty disappointing (yes, I do have a gift for understatement, why do you ask?)

Come on.  Show some damned design work.

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3 Comments

  1. The designation of art is even more poignant when one notices they refer to them in the article as “curated bookshelves”. Curators do tend to frequently be in charge of art, even if they are also occasionally in charge of collections of designed objects.

    I also know of few designed pieces available only in signed limited editions.

  2. How much of what I refer to as High Design is really a designer trying to cast art as design?

  3. Stacy,

    Signed, limited editions are, afaic primarily a marketing tool(and I’ll tell you- as marketing tools go, it works.). It creates an artificial demand based on several things- people’s need to collect things(or everything in a set of things), status, and potential speculative investment (real or imagined).

    You see this phenomenon all the time, particularly in the collectibles market. People will buy a thing they don’t even particularly *like* in order to have a complete set of whatever it is.

    Jay- probably some of it. A lot of it isn’t. Price is not the determining issue here- it’s about function.


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