Tuesday 29 January 2013


Could it be argued that fine art ought to be assigned more 'value' than more popular forms of Visual Communication?

The word ‘value’ is described as something which explains how much, an object, a person, or anything is worth, whether is be in a material way such as money, or whether its describing the importance of something. Graphic design is an important form of visual communication, therefore this essay will be looking at the relationship between fine art and graphic design, it will suggest reasons why fine art is seen to have a higher value than graphic design, and how it is culturally, more significant. Looking at the way in which people see fine art in comparison to the way they look at graphic design and what they take from that. Is graphic design a form of art? This is a popular question, even though they are both seen as a means of communication, does that make them the same thing? Throughout this essay, these questions will be answered and investigating the similarities and differences between art and design.

Graphic design is seen to have less value than Fine Art. When looking at the monetary worth of a piece of fine art in comparison to a piece of graphic design, this statement is true as art is seen as one of a kind, not reproducible, therefore it will go on sale for a lot of money, whereas graphic design is mass produced and is disposable, therefore has very little monetary worth. Although when looking at the importance of a piece of art or design, it could be argued that graphic design has more importance as it has a function, and is serving a purpose. Malcolm Barnard supports this idea as he says, ‘The argument is that graphic design is there to perform various jobs or functions, but art has no function.’ (Barnard, 2005: 172) With this Malcolm Barnard shows that there is an argument that Graphic design should have more value, as art has little importance as it has no function therefore doesn’t achieve anything. Which brings you back to question, why should fine art have such a high value, when graphic design has no value at all?
In Malcolm Barnard’s book, Graphic Design as Communication, he identifies the areas in which art and design are different, why design is not an art, and what people are confusing between the two. He states that art and design is not the same thing, although not for the reasons people would usually think. The idea that graphic design differs from art because art is being creative and has no limits, whereas graphic design is problem solving, its serving a purpose. Malcolm Barnard shows that this is just a theory, which he believes is wrong, as he states, ‘problem solving is itself an example of creative activity. If this is the case, then it can be claimed that graphic design is not different from art in that they are both creative.’ (Barnard, 2005:170). This quote argues that it’s not as simple as that they are both creative, therefore are the same thing. ‘A work of art stems from a view or opinion or feeling that the artist holds within him or herself. They create the art to share that feeling with others, to allow the viewers to relate to it, learn from it or be inspired by it… By contrast, when a designer sets out to create a new piece, they almost always have a fixed starting point, whether a message, an image, an idea or an action. The designer’s job isn’t to invent something new, but to communicate something that already exists, for a purpose.’ (Anon, 2009).  This quote is by Webdesingerdepot, and it is saying that is not just black an white, which means the idea that, art and design are the same because they are both creative, can be argued that they are creative in different ways. As graphic design is very limited, this is because they have a starting point and a purpose, and something that they have been briefed to communicate. Therefore the designer is able to be creative in respects to these compulsory points to start and finish, which some people suggest that having so many restrictions, disables the creativity and forces structure and a process to designing. Artists on the other hand, have as much freedom as they want, they do not work from briefs, they work from the emotions that they are having at the time, and show them through a piece of art. This would mean that art and design may have similar aspects to them, but this doesn’t mean that they are the same thing, as they differ from each other in many ways. Continuing to argue the point that art and design are similar in the way that they are both creative, Malcolm Barnard shows that art also has creative limits, and is also meeting clients needs like graphic designers do. ‘some point at which the “artist’s” freedom and expressivity is inevitable compromised by economics: what is produced has, eventually, to be marketable in order for the “artist” to be able to live. Even in the limit cases, there is something like a client and the “artist” is constrained to produce something that ‘end-user’ will want to buy’ (Barnard, 2005:165). Limiting artist’s freedom shows that art and design both follow the same restraints when it comes to working for clients, proving that art and design don’t differ from each of in this respect, therefore should have the same value.
Another way to show the differences between art and design is by looking at the audience who purchase or are effected by the pieces of work, and looking at the clientele that the work attracts. A piece of fine art is usually bought by someone of the elite, someone who has a lot of disposable income, or someone who wants to look like they have a lot of disposable income. Buying a piece of art can be for many reasons like, being effected by the way you interpret a piece of art, or wanting to shows people how much money you have, and how cultural you are, some people even buy a piece of art as an investment. Art is not communicating a message as much as it is communicating a feeling or emotion, the audience may not see the same emotion that the artist has, but they will have their own feelings about the work, this is what is unique about fine art, it effects people in different ways depending on how they are feeling. Design on the other hand isn’t necessarily bought, it can be bought but it is most commonly known for communicating a message, could be about a product, place or function, it could try and make you purchase something, or do something. Graphic design is communicating a certain message, and it is not for the audience to interpret like fine art is. Therefore what art and design are trying to make you do or make you see are completely different things, this quote supports this. ‘art and design … are interpreted by their respective audiences Art connects with people in different ways, because it’s interpreted differently. Design is the very opposite. Many will say that if a design can be “interpreted” at all, it has failed in its purpose. The fundamental purpose of design is to communicate a message and motivate the viewer to do something.’ (Anon, 2009). Malcolm Barnard agrees, ‘graphic design is a means of communication.’ (Barnard, 2005:18) and that it cannot be interpreted. Although he does believe that design is just as culturally significant as art if not sometimes it’s more. ‘Many examples of graphic design, they say, are “preserved and studied”, just as art is preserved and studied, and it therefore be considered as being culturally significant as art… some graphic design products can be more artistic than art in some respects.’ (Barnard, (2005:166). Barnard is arguing that although art is known as having more cultural significance than graphic design, he doesn’t believe that it should. ‘posters, packaging and logos on this account can be more expressive of an age or a culture than oil paintings and sculptures.’ (Barnard, 2005:166). Having a piece of graphic design in your house should have just as much value as having a piece of fine art in your house, whether this is in terms of monetary value or personal value.

‘Traditionally, the main differences between a graphic designer and an artist is that a graphic designer requires a brief and needs to be given content to work with. Artists, on the other hand, write their own briefs and create their own content.’ (Shaughnessy, 2009:21) This is seen as one of the main reasons why art and design are so far about when it comes to what they do and how they work, when actually Malcolm Barnard argues that this is another mistake, and that art and design are different but not for this reason. ‘not all those whom one might want to call artists are experimental risk-taking loners who revel in their creative freedom; some are and have been bound by strict contractual obligations to produce exactly what they are told to produce.’ (Barnard, 2005:165) examples of this are Damien Hirst, Picasso, Tracey Emin. These ‘artists’ all worked to briefs at one point, or did their work, not for the idea of showing emotion and trying to inspire and effect people’s lives, but purely just trying to make money, and doing what people have asked them to do to make some money. For example Picasso was commissioned to provide illustrations for the town Nice and De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, this was commissioned by advertising agencies, and he was told what he needed to illustrate, therefore following a brief to make money. This can be inferred that not all ‘artists’ are free to express whatever they want to, a lot of them have to work for briefs to earn some money so they can live and pay for their materials and studio space.  Fine art is seen to have more value because of its lack of rules and regulations, they are not ‘working for the man’ they are working to express, where as graphic designers have sold out and they are doing designs to earn a living as well as communicating a message. Therefore as Malcolm Barnard shows that this is false and artists need to earn a living to survive too, they should have the same value as both art and design influence peoples lives in different ways, they both do it for the same reasons. Craig Elimeliah suggests ‘most design projects have a detailed set of instructions and most design is based on current trends and influences.  An artist, on the other hand, could never be given any specific instructions in creating a new chaotic and unique masterpiece because his emotions and soul is dictating the movement of his hands and the impulses for the usage of the medium.  No art director is going to yell at an artist for producing something completely unique because that is what makes an artist an artist and not a designer.’ (Elimeliah, 2006) Craig Elimeliah argues the idea that maybe if these ‘artists’ are following a brief and being told what to do they are not an artist at all, that they are a designer.

Looking at the difference between artist and designers in a different way is by looking at the monetary value and how a piece of fine art only increasing in value after the artist has died, this is because it is irreplaceable, and unique. Whereas if a designer had died, it would be a loss but their work would not change in monetary value, unless their work was used in exhibitions, this is because the work can be reproduced as it can be reprinted and replaced. Malcolm Barnard states that the difference between art and design is ‘Aura’ he says, ‘some works of art possess “aura” and others, mechanically reproduced works (such as graphic design), do not. Aura is the sense of uniqueness and authenticity that is felt before a work of art. Uniqueness, the sense that there is a single work of art’ (Barnard, 2005:175). A good example of this is Van Gogh’s work. Van Gogh is considered as one of the most well known artists in the world, he produced paintings and drawings, each were singularly produced and seen as unique. Van Gogh struggled for years with money, as he only sold one of his paintings when he was alive, the work he produced didn’t make any money, and at the time no one understood his work or what he was doing. He believed that he was outside of society, and didn’t care about money because he was better than that, and after during his mental health issues he killed himself, some people say it was because no one understood him and his work.

Van Gogh had a very good relationship with his brother, they wrote letters to each other all the time, a lot of the letters were Van Gogh asking for money; as he lived off his brothers money as his brother was quite wealthy and well off as he was an art dealer, therefore this shows that he needed money. Van Gogh was commissioned to do work by his uncle, although his uncle didn’t appreciate the work he did, therefore gave him a more specific brief to follow, and he still didn’t use his work. Although his uncle didn’t use his work, Van Gogh still worked to a brief in order to earn some money, he also relied on his brother to provide him with money whilst he was paintings. This shows that Malcolm Barnard’s theory that; some artists follow briefs to be able to live, and survive, and it doesn’t mean that they are not an artist, although it could be argued that they shouldn’t have a higher value than graphic design either. Van Gogh’s work had an aura about it, it is unique and this is the reason why it has such a high monetary value to it. His work increased in how much the paintings were worth after he died as he couldn’t sell a lot of his work when he was alive, but 20 years after he had died, the self portrait (the last self portrait he had ever painted) that he gave to his mother for her birthday (Fig 1), sold in New York for $71.5 million, at the time this was the third most expensive paintings ever sold. Although he produced about 37 self-portraits, they were all one of a kind, they were not reproducible, and this is why they have this aura about them.

Another example of a fine artist, which displays and questions Barnard’s theories, is Damien Hirst. Damien Hirst peaked in 2008, he is also seen as quite a well-known contemporary artist and is seen as a risk taker, who experiments with the abnormal. Damien Hirst’s spot paintings are one of his most widely recognizable works that’s he has produced. He started with two and produced them himself, he then started hiring assistants to do it for him, this meant that he could produce more, which brought him to a total of 300 spot paintings (Fig 2) which were in exhibitions all over the world. It could be argued that as he didn’t physically do the paintings, as he says he can’t draw or paint, and that he showed his assistants how to produce them, almost mechanically, this is seen as something that could be reproduced although he calls himself an artist, by doing this he could be working as a designer. As Barnard suggests that the difference between an artist and a designer is that art possesses aura, whereas design doesn’t, as it can be mass-produced.

Hirst’s work is decreasing in value, his prices are down by 30% and some of his work isn’t even being sold, is this because he is no longer seen as an artist anymore, therefor his work has less value? He doesn’t always physically produce his work, he sometimes just thinks of the ideas for them, which has also been argued to be plagiarism. People have suggested that he has stolen other artist’s work and ideas, for example he had said that he had seen the spin paintings (Fig 3) on blue peter before he had done them, also his friend John LeKay had exhibited animal carcasses long before Damien Hirst had produced and of his animal carcasses (Fig 4), then when people question him about it his response was “F**k ’em all!” (Anon.(n.d.) 2012) The work, which Damien Hirst produces, is seen as art as it doesn’t have a specific function or purpose, his work is produced to cause reactions, it is very in your face and it wants to spark emotions from his respective audience. This shows that his work can’t be graphic design, as he is not communicating a message, he is trying to spark and emotion.

To conclude this essay, it has been shown throughout that fine art is seen to have a higher culture and monetary value, and is also more prestigious than graphic design, but this essay has also sown reasons of why it can be argued that people are wrong to think like that. ‘Art cannot be distinguished from graphic design by arguing that meaning in art is ambiguous and difficult but easy and plain in graphic design…meaning is a product of cultural and social values and what is easily understood by one group need not be easily understood by another.’ (Barnard, 2005:163-164) Barnard shows that it art and design mean different things to different people, some people believe that art is amazing and something that should be seen as having a higher value than graphic design, whereas some people would argue that and say that art doesn’t make sense and has no purpose, therefore as graphic design has a function, and can be beautiful at the same time, it should hold a higher value than fine art, whether that be a monetary value or value of importance. Although most people think that it is, this is not a black and white issue, there are grey areas, which can be argued and the audience also needs to be taken into consideration, rather than a blanket opinion. Graphic design and fine art have different values according to different people, therefore suggesting that fine art has a very high value and graphic design has no value is a blanket statement made by one persons opinion.

Fig 1 - Anon. (n.d.), (2002-2013) ‘Van Gogh Gallery’, [Internet], Available from: <http://www.vangoghgallery.com/catalog/Painting/2117/Self-Portrait.html> [Accessed 28 January 2013].

Fig 2 – Anon. (n.d.), (2012), ‘Daptomycin 2010’, [Internet], Available from: <http://www.damienhirst.com/daptomycin> [Accessed 28 January 2013]

 Fig 3 - Webb, P. (2010) ‘Poul Webb Art Blog’, [Internet], Available from: <http://poulwebb.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/damien-hirst-spin-paintings.html> [Accessed 28 January 2013].

Fig 4 – Anon. (n.d.), (2012) ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991’, [Internet], Available from: <http://www.damienhirst.com/the-physical-impossibility-of> [Accessed 28 January]


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