Principles of Art, Design, and Decoration
Post from May 12, 2007 (↻ June 12, 2021), filed under Art and Design.
This post is outdated.
Much thinking on design 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 (remember the “what is art” question?), and also simpler than I thought in recent 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 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.
- 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 transport 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?
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, 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 questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.
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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Perhaps my most comprehensive book: The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.