Terms as regards the art and design worlds…

I have been at this computer for at least two hours, now, reading over my backposts (to a point…I mean, really) and researching the differences between fine art and design.  I know there are some things which really don’t become clear without education…and in my case this has been largely experiential.

For instance, when people in my Continuing Drawing class commented on the “graphic” qualities of certain artworks (like mine), I really was not certain what they meant by the term “graphic.”  At this point, I can connect the term with a certain genre of visual statements…graphic art tends to be bolder and to be designed to grab and hold one’s attention more than, say, Water LiliesWater Lilies, by Monet, is a great series of artworks (if I’m correct in thinking they’re a series and not just one piece), but they are not “graphic” in the sense that they are not designed to purposely grab one’s face and cause one to look at them.

The project I was working on earlier — the stencil composition, which I’m loving at this point — falls into the genre of Graphic Art because it creates a very bold statement, even though it is still art in that it doesn’t have a clear-cut and singular meaning.  It’s Graphic Art, not Graphic Design.  Graphic Design, as mentioned here, is meant to convey a specific meaning in order to motivate the viewer to do something.

So, for example, if I had taken up the task of creating a composition with the specific goal of dissuading people from smoking on campus, that would have fallen under the heading of Graphic Design, not Fine Art or Graphic Art, or so I’m thinking.  This is because there is a fixed, set message which is predetermined, and the graphics are being used in the employ of communicating that message.  Hence, there actually can be compositions made which “fail” in their essential purpose of communicating that set message, because that task is the only reason they exist at all.

However, Art (as versus Design) is…looser, I want to say.  There are no set-in-stone ways of communicating what is within one, in this field.  The messages one can take away from it are also not fixed.  It’s more of an expressive thing which, in the case of the visual arts, utilizes the sense of sight in order to somehow touch others.

This is not for the purpose of motivating someone else to do some specific action.

In my experience…there seems to be an aspect of Fine Art that really reaches people on some level beyond the rational.  Of course, this is employed in the service of Graphic Design as well, however…Graphic Design has a set task at hand.  Fine Art is what one makes of it.  I still haven’t thought to research Illustration, though obviously there is a very long tradition there, going back at least to illuminated manuscripts.

The other distinction that I can see arising is this difference between drawing and painting.  I mentioned this a while ago.  I’ll see if I can find that post.  Being in Art History is actually clarifying a bit of this, for me.  Apparently — at least in Europe — prior to the High Renaissance, art was mostly done using line and largely eschewing color.  Sounds like “Drawing” a bit, yes?  During the Mannerist period, which followed the High Renaissance and preceded the Baroque, people started to split into different camps as regarded whether they thought line or color were more important in creating images.  This continued into the Baroque.

But in any case, what I’ve experienced in my Drawing and Painting classes is twofold:

  1. Drawing, at least in the beginning stages, focuses on line and monochromatic representations of reality.  This is often (but not always) accomplished at first with dry media, like chalks and charcoal, pencils, etc., though ink — and pastel — here, provide bridges into Painting (particularly with the less-waxy media, unless one is using a solvent which can dissolve an oil- or wax-based crayon).
  2. Painting builds upon the foundation of drawing by gradually introducing the use of multiple shades of the same color, and then full-color renditions of experience.  This is often accomplished using fluid media — watercolors, oils, acrylics — though I’ve also used pastel and aquarelles within Painting classes.  This also somewhat implicates oil pastels, when dissolved with an appropriate thinner, though I don’t know much about that (I’ve avoided working with oils because of toxicity concerns).

Taking the Art History classes clarifies that both of these media have the strong potential to depart from representational rendering of what is seen in the outer world.  However; what seems to have happened is that Renaissance-era versions of representation are taught in Drawing, and post-Renaissance departures from what had been established tradition, are addressed in Painting.  That is:  monochromatic color schemes and heavy use of line are more directly related to Drawing, whereas the utilization of areas of color or tone are more directly related to what we know today as Painting.

I totally wouldn’t have gotten that without the Art History class.  🙂  At this point I kind of wonder what else I can learn, once given a jumping-off point.  At least now, you know, I know to look at the Renaissance, Mannerist, Baroque, and Rococo periods together in order to form some kind of idea of — and response to — what has happened in the past.  Unfortunately, the first three sections of this are parts of Art History which I may not have time to delve deeply into, before the class period is up.


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Haru ("Codey") is a third-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

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