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Art or Not Art

I’ve been told that graphic design is art. I’ve been told that graphic design is not art. So which is it? To be honest, it’s both.

Recently, my grandma saw a t-shirt I was wearing that said, “Graphic Design.” It was actually a design I had created for a college assignment. She asked me, “What is graphic design?” We were sitting in a restaurant at the time, so I tried to use things in our near vicinity she could relate to. I showed her the printed menu. “See this? A graphic designer laid this all out. Road signs? Someone designed those. I designed this t-shirt. Billboards? Advertisements in magazines? Business cards? Graphic designers.” She tried to wrap her head around the concept and asked, “So things like brochures?” I excitedly answered, “Yes!” Graphic design was all of those things – and a lot more, too.

Graphic design is like a lot of other things in life. There are basic rules to follow, then there are a lot of personal preferences that go into it. On the “it’s not an art” side, there are definite dos and don’ts. Designers are often called upon for certain jobs like newspaper ads. There are very strict parameters that have to be followed in order to fill a certain size block. That’s not art – that’s obeying directions. Sometimes pieces must be designed in black and white only. Or perhaps the colors can’t go all the way to the edge of a piece. Maybe someone only wants one certain typeface (font) to be used. Aside from all that, there is a plethora of designing rules – just like there are grammatical rules when writing – that should generally be adhered to. Within all those elements (and many more), designers are forced to follow parameters. Therefore, yes, graphic design is not an art.

On the flipside, designers are often called upon to create a piece from scratch. While working within the aforementioned “rules” as it were, there can be a lot of room for play. Consider logos. That in itself is a vast world in which success relies upon having an eye for what looks good – that’s not a rule, that’s an artistic viewpoint. If color schemes and typefaces have not been specified, it’s the designer’s job to pick what elements go well together. Just like when painting a picture on a canvas, all the elements need to work together to produce something pleasing to the eye. Therefore, yes, graphic design is art.

There is a delicate line between the art side of design and the rule side of design. Sometimes it’s a hard line to see, let alone follow. But in the end, when someone says that graphic design is not art, they’re right. And when someone else says that graphic design is art, they’re right, too. And if everyone is right, we should be headed towards world peace, right?


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