Jens Meiert

Principles of Art, Design, and Decoration

Jens O. Meiert, May 12, 2007 (↻ August 15, 2014).

This entry has been written by Jens the .

Many thoughts on especially design recently lead me to the conclusion that defining the terms art, design, and decoration can be pretty simple. Outlining their principles, at least. Simpler than I thought in school (anyone remembering these “what is art” questions?), and also simpler than I thought in recent years.

Art:
Art hides. Art has a meaning, and it hides it, on purpose. Art delivers a message, and that message is hidden, on purpose. It is an art to create art. Art is unusable, by definition.
Design:
Design reveals. Design reveals meaning, design reveals a message, design reveals function. Bad design does the opposite: It obscures, it hides. The reason why that almost never makes bad design art is that the subject is supposed to be revealed.
Decoration:
Anything else that doesn’t have meaning is just decoration, at most. Ask an artist what he wants to achieve with his art piece—if he can’t (well, maybe he won’t) tell, he’s a decorator, not an artist. Ask a designer why her design works—if she can’t tell, she’s probably a (lucky) decorator, not a designer. Decoration’s sometimes appealing, but it doesn’t transports anything.

These definitions are simplified, sure, so they’re rather principles or attributes of art, design, and decoration. They rely on other definitions, for example “meaning”. They also ignore certain factors like audience, context, and emotion. However, they seem to hold true often enough to be considered principles. I smell some confirmation bias, but that’s my observation.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Comments (Closed)

  1. On May 14, 2007, 17:06 CEST, Stephan Riess said:

    Design aims to provide a solution to a problem.
    Decorating aims to cover up the problem.

  2. On May 14, 2007, 17:09 CEST, Jens O. Meiert said:

    I can tell that you’ve been inspired by Daniel Schutzsmith ;)

  3. On June 27, 2007, 18:23 CEST, Jens O. Meiert said:

    Guys, don’t hesitate to comment… I can quote very interesting feedback from a reader from Washington:

    But I would point out that what she’s describing isn’t so much the principles of three separate “disciplines”, but rather that there is a kind of triangular structure. On the vertical axis, you have “meaning”; horizontally, you have “reveal-occlude”. Thus, decoration is at the bottom, art is meaning+occlusion, and design is meaning+revelation.

    The entire post’s worth reading, and I might reply in more detail later.

    (Ah, I’m male, by the way.)

  4. On December 27, 2007, 17:39 CET, passerby said:

    “Art hides. Art has a meaning, and it hides it, on purpose. Art delivers a message, and that message is hidden, on purpose. It is an art to create art. Art is unusable, by definition.”

    Really?

    I wouldn’t be so sure about it. What we call art today was simply what you defined as design.

    Many artists didn’t want to hide anything at all, they wanted to convey messages on behalf of their patrons;
    they were paid to do so.
    By saying that art hides and is unusable, you are fostering a romantic view of art.
    You are saying Gauguin is art, and Caravaggio is not.

  5. On December 28, 2007, 13:17 CET, Jens O. Meiert said:

    passerby, thank you.

    By saying that art hides and is unusable, you are fostering a romantic view of art.

    That is not intended, but I really need to think about that again in terms of how art cannot use “hiding” as an ”excuse” […].

    You are saying Gauguin is art, and Caravaggio is not.

    To be honest, I do not know many pieces of Caravaggio. Anyway, I definitely claim that some masters are rather “master decorators” than ”master artists”.

    I need to add that creating appealing, beautiful, high-quality decoration is a very, very remarkable discipline, one that must not be devalued by current understanding of “decoration.” Good decoration is as rare as good design and good art. As another side note, well, there’s a follow-up post: Qualities of Design: It Works and It’s Durable.

  6. On January 18, 2009, 17:46 CET, Rose said:

    Hello! This is not a very affective website, there is no color and it is supose to be for ART. Jens Meiert, I hope you get this and make some changes. I almost forgot…
    I will be coming over for tea next weekend. (Yes I do know where you live.)
    Thank You for leting people write comments. Again make changes or I will!
    See ya!!
    -?

  7. On January 18, 2009, 19:18 CET, Jens O. Meiert said:

    …?

  8. On January 18, 2011, 18:13 CET, Jens O. Meiert said:

    More of an internal note that’s I’m not sure is of broader interest: “Design is defined as ‘the use of higher thought and systematic process to achieve objectives.’ It has nothing to do with graphics or frills. It has everything to do with being more effective and successful.” Per Mr Knemeyer.

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