The Difference Between Art & Design

On September 6, Design West Michigan in collaboration with ArtPrize, held a panel discussion, “The Difference between Art & Design.” Moderator was Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis magazine, and the panelists were Andrew Blauvelt, Design Director and Curator, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Joseph Rosa, Director, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor.

Right off the bat, it became apparent that there is no cut-and-dried answer to the question, “what is the difference between art and design?”

Blauvelt stated, “One of the differences between art and design is context. What would you call an illustration if you saw it in a book, or if you saw it in a gallery? If you put an Eames LCW on a pedestal in a museum, does it inch closer to becoming art? If it’s inching toward art, does it move away from design, or can it exist in both spheres? If someone who was trained only in design starts to create designs for which there is no client, is that art? Are commissioned artworks somewhat like design? There are some supposed distinctions, like design solves problems.”

Rosa added, “I think the school that has art and design activity—they should learn from each other.  Each still should have its discipline. The trick is you have to have your discipline flow away from and go to the discipline level. You adjust the completeness.”

The conversation zigged and zagged as architecture and industrial design became topics of discussion, leading to the topic of design collaboration.

According to Szenasy, “Collaborative design isn’t about a material designer collaborating with an architect and the landscape architect. That’s what should be a given by now. What collaborative design assumes for me is that there is knowledge from biology, from Nano technology, from the sciences, from other areas that we need to include in our thinking about the design environment that is essential understanding of where you can design anything. And I think it’s not just sort of willful form making, but is an informed series of decisions made in order to create the very best collaborative building, and that means that collaboration happens truly in an interdisciplinary way…. I don’t want to have the architects say that they should be biologists. But they need to understand what biology does in order to create the building that they need to create.”

After a lively give and take among the three, Szenasy brought all the topics of discussion together. “I think one of the issues in design, whether a product or a building, reveals something about itself that is so intuitive. You know in a building: you know when you walk up to it, you know the way the sun comes in, the way it’s shaded from the heat, the way it feels. I don’t think we have to learn … we know what’s intuitive about it. We also know about the audience. We’re very multi-sensitive. Yet, I think what happens to us and to design especially, and art more or less, is that everything emphasizes the visual, and doesn’t take into consideration this complex, multi-sensual creature that we are who needs stimulations at all levels. And so we’re sort of slaves to this: ‘What does it look like? How do I make it move? How do I show it off across many pages?’ So how do we bring together design, art, craft and everything in between in the service of human need and environment goals? We have to be ambassadors because it is. Schools have to take a part in it; the professionals play a part in it. And then the architectures play a part in it. It’s not this two-systematic society. And that’s why we’re uncomfortable with these words ‘art and design’ because it’s much more about ideas, solutions—beautiful solutions, really pleasing, intuitive solutions that we know that the designers and the artists can give us.”

The event was also an opportunity for DWM members and guests to preview the newly renovated Historic Federal Building before its public opening and a chance to meet Kendall’s new president; Dr. David Rosen.


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