The following response is for ART369, Interactive Design, Spring 2017

Art, Design and some definitions.

“Art appears when what is made feels as if there is a profound misunderstanding at the heart of what it is, as if it were made with the wrong use in mind, or the wrong idea about what it is capable of, or simply the wrong set of assumptions about what it means to fully function in the world.

A work works by not working at all. By not obeying the law of any system or authority external to the process of its own making, a work emphatically expresses its own right to exist for itself and in itself, and questions — by merely existing — the rule of law that works to bind all to semblance of the common good. Art is a lawless proposition.”

— Paul Chan

Chan presents an interesting, and polarizing view on art. For Chan, true art is one that breaks out of its surrounding “framework”, that violates any predetermined or socially accepted “rules”, and that emphatically disobeys the “laws” of the system it was crafted within. It seems for Chan, any work that is pleasant on the eyes but does not cause discomfort cannot be called art at all.

I disagree with this definition. I believe art’s place in society is to raise important questions, to provide commentary and promote cultural development. I also believe, for this reason, that there is no true definition of “art”. Art, to me, is intensely personal. A piece viewed by one as rubbish, or simply easy on the eyes but lacking meaning, may be the most significant, important, even metaphor ridden work to another.

While works may fail to deliver their intended upon message, or while some works may simple be eye candy and not even attempt to provide sociocultural commentary, who am I, you or anyone else to tell the creator that what they have produced doesn’t qualify as “art” under certain, unspoken rules. By placing this sort of structure around art, by requiring that art by definition must break the mold and must “not work” and “be lawless”, Chan has implicitly placed art within his own narrow constraints.

If the point Chain is making is that art must be unbounded, free to exist for existence sake then why in the name of (insert preferred spiritual entity here) would one wrap it in a box by mandating the preceding criteria? To be clear, you cannot say art, to qualify as art, must be outside the box because the very act of saying this is placing art within ones own confines.

As to the question of whether this definition applies to “design” as well… we are once again speaking of vaguely defined terms. I think my favorite answer to this questions comes from John Maeda. He says:

“Art is about making questions. Design is about making solutions. So in art you can make something that doesn’t make any sense — which is okay. In design you have to make sense, that’s the difference”

— Maeda, Design Disruptors (InVision)

I don’t think anything I write can encapsulate my view better than Maeda’s quote. Art can be beautiful, art can be bold, art can be ugly and art can be cruel. Art has the intention of evoking an emotion, it has the intention of posing a question — a question the viewer, the consumer, is obliged to at least consider, if not answer. Design seeks to answer problems, to declutter the world, to guide, to shape and to mend.

I think good design is anything that solves a problem well. Take the classic example- Comic Sans. Universally despised by artists and non-artists alike. It isn’t pretty and I can’t say I’ve ever been excited to use it. But it’s power is incredible. Comic Sans is one of the best conversation starters, head turners, and soft chuckle-inducers. It makes people stop and notice it. In a world awash with visual noise, Comic Sans stands out. Unashamed, tall and true to it’s absolute weird/ugliness, it makes it’s presence known. And that is a powerful tool.

A rambled answer, but an answer nonetheless, I believe good design is anything that solves a problem in the simplest way possible. I think it is possible for something to be considered good art and well designed. If a piece can achieve it’s objective (whether it’s looking good OR posing a question) in the best, smartest, and most efficient way possible, then, for me, it meets every criteria in the vastly controversial, intensely personal definitions of both the words.

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Just a dude who builds things on the internet. Hit me at abhi@tonebase.co.

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Abhi Nayar

Abhi Nayar

Just a dude who builds things on the internet. Hit me at abhi@tonebase.co.

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