Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Binary Designers?

At Dordt College students interested in graphic design are art majors with a graphic design emphasis. That means, that in addition to taking four dedicated graphic design courses, students also take some required studio fine art courses, a business marketing course, as well as other studio art and art history electives along with a rigorous liberal arts core curriculum. Often times, a graphic design student will say, “I like graphic design, but what I really like is studio art (painting, drawing, photography, ceramics, or sculpture)—fine art allows me to be self-expressive.” When students become juniors and seniors I offer them an individual study in order to develop their portfolios. Together, we begin the process of systematic exploration and review their body of work from all of their studio classes and determine where their work is strong and what areas need improvement. Some students seem to apologize and ask me “Can I include fine art with graphic design in my portfolio?” “Are clients interested?” “Yes,” I respond and further add that although art and design are different they are very much related. The choice between the two is actually a false dilemma because there is so much common ground.

Why do students seem to have the attitude of the two art sub-cultures? Why this tension? The perception of fine art as more noble than design (graphic design), is a Romantic notion going back to the Renaissance, a notion that has found it’s way to today’s North American college campuses—Christian colleges included. Does this attitude come from the academic liberal arts tradition? Where do the lines of art and design cross?

Calvin Seerveld starts to provide an answer with his working definition of art: “a well-crafted artifact or act distinguished by an imaginative quality whose nature is to allude to more meaning than what is visible/audible/written/sensed….”

How does Seerveld’s art definition work in design? Actually, graphic design, web design, interactive design can be considered artifacts or acts of communication distinguished by an imaginative quality that is visible/audible/written/sensed.

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