Principles of Art, Design, and Decoration
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Much thinking about design has led 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 (“what is art?”), and also simpler than I thought in earlier years.
- 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 reveals. Design reveals meaning, design reveals function, design reveals a message. 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.
- Anything else that doesn’t have meaning is decoration, at most. Ask an artist what they want to achieve with their art piece—if they can’t tell (well, maybe they won’t tell), they’re a decorator, not an artist. Ask a designer why their design works—if they can’t tell, they’re probably a (lucky) decorator, not a designer. Decoration is sometimes appealing, but it doesn’t transport anything.
These definitions are simplified, sure, so they’re rather principles or attributes of art, design, and decoration. They rely on other definitions, like “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 has been my observation.
What are your thoughts and experiences?
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead—currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson—and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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