In our new age trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary art and design practices, it wouldn’t be of much difficulty to find those who are confused with the issue of how to differentiate art from design and design from art. Interestingly this issue is not about the practical difficulty exist in conceptual understanding in design, rather one can put this as an issue of theoretical clarity in postmodern academic thinking. Many times in my career I have heard parents of prospective students ask me this question about difference between art and design, so that they can decide the future career of their children. Every time without a direct answer, I skirt my answer in an ambiguous explanation on creative practice.
Instead of trying to define what is design, let me try to find out design through its location in our contemporary art and design world. Perhaps this will help us to frame a context on which we can derive a better perspective.
In simple terms, design as profession try to set an existing system, idea, object or a policy to make it resilient by offering solutions, corrections, modifications or finding substitutes. In other words it tries to make things functional or its operation sustainable within a given situation, condition or context.
Where as the post 20th century art on the contrary has becomes an act of adventure, where a system, idea, object or a practice can be subverted, denied or stretched beyond the definitions of any laid down parameters and the act of creation can be independent of context, situation or condition. As Marcel du champ puts it in absolute clarity about twentieth century art “ I have no problem and I have no solution”, art unlike design need not be a practice of resilience to address an existing system, object or a policy framework. Art as a process, approach and method can find its own procedures that are independent of a preexisting narrative. In other words when design tries to make a system resilient, art on the contrary liberates itself from need for dependancy by being adventurous. Today this difference between resilience and adventure is far too complicated that no one can confuse them as one , similar or one that are complimentary in nature. Resilience and adventure or conformity and rebellion are poles apart in their existence. So do the Design and art.
The confusion of art and design as one as the same or one for the same has often emerged from our confusion about craft. Craft is practice or subject that is systemic, procedural and cultural or traditional in nature. In that sense craft like design is a resilient practice that uses skill sets to achieve traditional or cultural conformity. But on the other side, craft practice is also an aesthetic outcome where artistic skill sets are applied and where materiality is often experimented with adventure. In that sense, definitions of art are also applicable on craft. Elaborately speaking craft as a form derive its merit from both ‘resilience’ nature of design and ‘adventurous’ nature of art. This complicated formulation of craft creates lots of confusion in the minds of art and design students and practitioners. One important factor that we shouldn’t overlook about craft is, may be it is practice of resilience on one end of its spectrum and adventurous on the other end but it also has a predominant traditional and ritualistic phase to it. In that sense craft has a completely different ecological identity from design and art. Unfortunately in our contemporary art design vocabulary, craft is many times used as a metaphor for creativity or skill set in human endeavours owing to its historical moorings in western guilds and art and craft movement. To understand it better one only has look at the twentieth century art’s craving to escape the knuckles of craft and the eagerness of Design for industrial finish in craft .
In totality if one has to define the art, design and craft on a creative practice bandwidth, it would most probably be as under
Design as the resilience of human beings to sustain their functional fundamentals within their socio/cultural-political and economic constraints, art as the eternal need for adventure , liberation and rebellion from those resilient functional constraints and craft as the bridge between these extreme positions, a middle path of synthesising human adventure with its roots. One should never confuse any of them as the same or try to supplement one with the other. In history, Art and Design always remained contrary to each other in their approach, method and process and they will remain it that way. If anyone one wants to marry them both in their practice, they will have to remain in craft. Kindly remember craft is neither a complete design practice or a complete art practice.