Author: Lois Rule
At 2 Rules, we talk a lot about design that takes function to a fine art level. It’s a hard concept to explain, but we keep trying. After all, art movements of the past were sometimes hard to describe as they unfolded, but that couldn’t hide the fact that something new and disruptive was emerging.
Let’s start by asking if you remember the traditional distinction between crafts and visual arts? The one that says that crafts can be decorative as well as functional, but visual arts have traditionally served no useful purpose other than to be visually consumed. Actually, it sounds more like an “attitude” than a “distinction,” doesn’t it? In many places throughout history, this distinction gave artists a questionable reputation and a burden to justify their existence, since craftspeople were considered “useful,” and artists were not.
It’s no surprise, either, that society can shift to the opposite attitude. I remember when homemade items like clothing or furniture, no matter how original and stylish, were looked down upon compared to the same thing that had a “store-bought” name on it. Handmade “crafts” were considered somehow inferior, mainly because you didn’t have to be educated to make them. Even today, self-taught artists have a hard time competing with professionally trained artists. And “professional” usually means holding a university degree, not just taking private study art classes or getting a trade school degree. So, this attitude shifted the questionable reputation to the craftspeople along with a burden to justify their existence, since artists were considered “professionals” and craftspeople were not.
Then, the art world began to embrace some crafts, like ceramics and printmaking, as fine art. This evolved when some craftspeople got noticed for working stunningly visual concepts into their work. Universities began to include these crafts in their fine art curriculum. These “crafts” became “fine art,” and craftspeople could be considered “professional” artists of “fine art.”
Now, replace the word “craft” with “design.” I saw a real separation long ago in my university classes, when those of us in “studio” art classes were “different” from the students in the “graphic design” (or “commercial”) art classes. Somehow, “different” meant the studio artists were better. Studio artists were purists who worked independently and created art “for art’s sake.” Their art didn’t have to be anything other than an expression of themselves or a comment on society. But, those “design” students across the hall didn’t mind working for someone else. Their artwork, gasp, was useful and functional. They even had the audacity to admit that they actually wanted to make money from their artwork! Just like “craft” before it, “design” struggled for respect from the “fine art” world.
So, where are we? Now you can find programs like “digital media” and “graphic design” in University art departments, and these programs are as well-respected as painting or sculpture. The art world has embraced commercial artists, and “design” is gaining respect as “fine art.”
The movement is to Fine Art Design, and the disruptive thought behind the movement is this: Design works that are functional can also provide an exciting visual feast for the beholder. For example, what corporation doesn’t love having the most memorable ad “design” out there? What kind of a company would try to survive today without an attractive Web site “design?” What kind of consumer would not be drawn to beautiful packaging “design?”
Fine Art Design is a vibrant art movement, but it’s not all that new anymore. In fact, as those examples above show, we have already experienced the shift. It’s just that a lot of people don’t relate what’s happening as being an art movement. In fact, a lot of people are still having trouble grasping the fact that printmaking and ceramics are fine art. Let’s spread the word, so those people don’t get left farther behind.
Some talking points: functional computer art produced by today’s graphic designers can be fine art; a woodcut that is handcut and handprinted can be fine art; computer fonts, hand-lettered calligraphy, and letterpress letters can all live in the same art world; film photography, digital photography, and oil painting can all hang together in a “fine art” gallery. Design created with function in mind can be “fine art.”
Just like everything else, attitudes and opinions about this new art movement will differ by the amount of exposure the beholder has to it. And we don’t want the beholder to be blindsided. That is why we show “art you need to know about” at 2 Rules Fine Art gallery.