Sunday, October 7


What is art? This grand question has been discussed, debated and pondered throughout history and there are as many answers to this question as there are people to provide answers. Today I will throw my opinion into the fray.

First let's deal with the semantics. Contrary to popular sentiment I do think semantics are important, particularly to designers who are in the field of "communications". Clear contextual definitions make for clearer communication. So let us define art shall we?

A dictionary defines art as follows:
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Personally I find it quite limiting. Musicians whose expressions exist by invisible sound waves? Their work also is "appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."

And then poets? The words of a poem are perceived by the eye but given meaning only by the mind. A fact that all artists rely on. The painter hopes that the lines, shapes and colors on the canvass will not only create a sensory response but an emotional one, a response beyond that of the senses. Does not the same go for the musician?

It seems that all accepted art forms have this in common, they express messages to the senses for the mind to then interpret. An expression from the artist, an interpretation from the audience; and this strikes me as incredibly similar to another thing. Communication. Here is the theory in algebraic equation form.


E is expression
I is interpretation
A is art
C is communication

I have found this way of perceiving art to be profoundly simple and powerful. It shatters prejudice and preconceived notions and aids in separating message from medium. Marshall Mcluhan no doubt shudders in his grave at this blasphemy but allow me a moment to illustrate.

Look at this empty pitcher.

In this pitcher I can put anything. Juice, tea, beer. Doesn't even have to be liquid. Marbles, diamonds, coins. The content does not change the container. The pitcher is merely a tool for delivering what's in it.

Art is very much like this pitcher. It is a tool for communicating a message. Everyone has something different to say but everyone uses the same thing to say it, ergo art. Right now, To communicate my message I am using the art of writing. If I meet you in person I will use the art of speech and body language to express myself. Tomorrow I will use the art of design to express my client's message and whoever will receive the message will interpret it in their own unique way. Voila! Communication!

That, in a nutshell, is how I define art. It is a very broad definition and for good reason. It opens things up and impels one to view more things from an "artistic" point of view. No doubt you see how this is decidedly important to those with a career based on creative skill, namely designers.

The different ways of communicating a given message grows exponentially in relation to what we are ready to admit can possibly express that very message.

So let's challenge ourselves shall we? Today try to find as many things that fit into this "art is communication" definition. A water bottle label, what does that communicate? How do you interpret a stranger's signature? Was that person deliberately or unconsciously expressing something? The way your spouse holds a cup of coffee, is he/she trying to tell you something?

Truly, art surrounds us.

Pitcher image source:

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