Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Differences between graphic and fine art.

This is a question of utility. What is the purpose of the end product? Is the product something to behold for its aesthetic value or does the finished product have a purpose – a job to do? Where will it be displayed? How will it be used? Answering these questions can help determine whether a product is graphic or fine art.

Graphic art can be appealing and enjoyed, but it has a direct and intended purpose. Graphic artists work directly for clients and changes are made to match what the client sees or hears in her brain, but must hire an artist to create. The purpose may be to sell a product or identify a company or convey a political message. It may be subtle or direct, but it has a purpose.

Fine art is something to simply enjoy. It is a luxury, something extra in our lives, something that does not add to our physical state of survival. Philip Meggs states in the preface of his book Meggs’ History of Graphic Design that art for art’s sake didn’t exist until after the Industrial Revolution. Everything up to that point may have been creative, but it was tied to something that had a use. Many fine artists do work on commission thereby working directly for a client, but the final product has no utility. Many artists are independent and create work that is organically inspired. The phrase “starving artist” must have some meaning.

Art is fluid. A design may have been created for commercial reasons, but once it is removed from its intended environment, becomes fine art. The design becomes something to simply enjoy. You don’t have to be able to read Chinese to enjoy the beauty of the calligraphy. The message or its purpose might not mean anything to the viewer, but the softness and intricacies of the brush strokes are something to behold on their own. Likewise, a painting created by a master can be used (with permission) in an advertising campaign with whatever slogans that may be added and the painting now has a purpose.

If Meggs is correct about the lack of fine art in early times, then everything we study about ancient times was originally graphic art. All of it had a purpose. The carefully designed scarab beetle carvings used by the Egyptians for identification purposes, that probably took an artist to create, had a purpose. However, now that time has passed and the functionality of the ancient creations have been removed, these items are now fine art. They are something to study and enjoy for their aesthetic value.

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