What do the great rapper, political activist, and graphic designer M.I.A. and I have in common? Nothing! But NPR's The Record sees the matter differently:
The Wall Street Journal picks 5 of the 50 comps I did for Dragon Tattoo in order to illustrate how hopeless I am as a designer.
Ps. Before this article ran, I had had no idea that our Sales Department disliked the final printed cover. Curious. This illustrates some principle or other, though I'm neither able nor inclined to tease out what that principle is.
Two things I've read this weekend, Wittgenstein's Culture and Value, and Wyatt Mason's wonderful David Foster Wallace piece in the NYRB have further crystalized my thinking on The ways in which design is not art.
Mason, in discussing the philosophical underpinnings of DFW's writing, highlights a passage from The Review of Contemporary Fiction (Fall 1988) in which Wallace issued a cultural critique of television:
"[TV] strives not to change or enlighten or broaden or reorient—not even necessarily to entertain—but merely and always to engage, to appeal to...Television's greatest appeal is that it be engaging without being at all demanding."
Later that day I came across this in the Wittgenstein:
"Taste makes things acceptable." Der geschmack macht annehmbar.
"Taste can be charming, but not gripping." Geschmack kann entzücken, aber nicht ergreifen.
Due to many factors (the mechanisms of the approval process; design's fundamentally commercial aspects...) when one examines the field of design, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that good design must be, above all, likeable.
Design is too intimately entangled with matters of taste (to use Wittgenstein's word) to be demanding enough to be Art. I have to say that in my years in the field, I've yet to be made to cry by a work of design. I've yet to be forced to view the world differently due to a work of design. I've yet to be really, truly gripped by a work of design. I know it's deeply self-defeating to say this, yet, the best design has only ever evoked in me the feeling of "that's cool." A nice feeling, sure. But...
(and you could say that the failure of receptivity is mine, but this doesn't feel true. And neither is it a form of snobbery—for instance, Television has evoked these feelings in me.)
I realize that the two fields (art and design) are spectra, not discrete, and the line separating them is blurry, graduated. And so delineating the distinctions can be more a matter of saying what one field cannot accomplish, rather than defining what either field is (almost like Maimonides' negative theology). I would imagine that there are anomalies of design that raise themselves above the lower atmospheres of likability; and I'd love to hear what you think they are, as I've encountered few if any. The examples that come to mind fail at being good design in order to succeed as art.
The truth is, I'd be happy (for somewhat obvious reasons) to have my mind changed on the matter. I've done a fair amount of reading of classical aesthetics, but none in the field of design aesthetics. Any recommendations are welcome. Til then, I'm fairly content to view design as a field that fosters contentment. It certainly fosters my own.