Art vs. Design

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In Loic Prigent's documentary "Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton," the fashion designer, an avid art collector, is quoted as saying something to the effect of, "I am always so inspired by what these artists are doing. Fine art is like a higher form--I think of fine art as being up here [indicating a level with his hands], and fashion as being down here."

Which brings back that hairy, age-old question of the distinction between art and design. The borders are fuzzy, and now Jacobs has applied a hierarchy to the two areas of practice. Perhaps what he is getting at about fashion (and, presumably, other design practices as well) being "down here" is the fact that it is constrained by the consideration of use, whereas art is free of such constraints. Yet from an interaction and product designer's perspective, fashion is far closer to art on the scale of art to design than the type of work I dabble in on a daily basis--and I do consider myself a designer. After all, much of what you see in haute couture is barely wearable, primarily expressions of an artistic mind (or a team of minds) that happens to make use of the human body.

At first I resented the fact that Jacobs' statement implied the subservience of design to art, but now I understand that both coexist is this hierarchy to serve different purposes. Design is functional and for people, and art is commentary on or reflections about people, for whoever wishes to engage with it. In my world of design, if it doesn't work--and, increasingly in our socially-conscious society, if it doesn't last--it doesn't matter how beautiful it is, it's not good design. In Jacobs' world, whether it works (is wearable and a manufacturable) is less important than whether it effectively and aesthetically conveys the thoughts and feelings of a particular person at a particular moment in time.


    On March 13, 2008 at 7:37 PM Enric said...

    Design as 'applied art' totally has to look to be functional, but never refuse to try to be beautiful. Like bucky fuller said:

    "When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem.But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong"

    Design is a specturm between aesthetics and performance.

    Some products are already very functional and have to differentiate themselves by exploring the aesthetics (think furniture, fashion design) while some other are just functional and its users don't care about how well they look as long as they work (caterpillars, overalls,etc..)

    At the end, what matters is, what the people are looking for in your product: emotions or functions?

    On April 1, 2008 at 2:44 PM Anonymous said...

    art is art and design is design. as richard serra said "art is purposefully useless."

    lot's of stuff in here:

    one quote which stood out to me from that book(and I will now proceed to butcher it, and forget who wrote it) was along the lines of, "function/use is just the floor below which good design can't go."

    Speaking of hierarchies, I've experienced that many people don't even consider fashion "design" at all. When I saw the MJ/LV film I thought he felt confined by the seasonal demand for production, the imposed structure of the industry, whereas he saw art as free of those constraints. Of course, art has its own industry constraints.

    I think temporality might be an interesting way to start to draw different distinctions between the things we think of as art, design or fashion without imposing a value judgment.

    Or sometimes I think that art mixes the way we see up and design tries to straighten it out...

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