Giving feedback on artistic creations is often difficult, arbitrary, and can heighten tension among coworkers. Here are four simple rules to help.
Rectangles on a blue background. An excellent demonstration of the shape tool in Photoshop. Yet this painting sells for hundreds of dollars. It may be fine decoration for a Nieman Marcus, but it’s not art.
Indignant Ian: How dare you, man! Who are you to say what is and isn’t art?
A thinking man, that’s who.
It’s a “habit” of mine to use my mind for the purposes of definition and categorization. You may not like my output, and I’m open to hearing your argument, but I’m willing, able, and ready to make a judgement call in this case. Those shapes aren’t art.
One thing I know for sure is that art is something. It’s not everything. (Then it would be nothing.) Art has characteristics, attributes, features. Art has a definition.
Likewise, something I hear all the time when I talk about rhetoric is that “everything is an argument.” ::sigh:: No, it’s not.
Your Wifi key is not an argument. The Florida Keyes are not an argument. Alicia Keyes is not an argument. Arguments, like art, are something. I’ve covered what they are in previous posts, and I’ll continue to do so. But I want to take some time to discuss other kinds of discourse. What you can engage in if you’re not making an argument.
In composition studies, there are traditionally four categories of discourse:
- Argument (not covered in this post)
Let’s look at the characteristics and distinguishing features of each:
Michelangelo’s David and Steve Jobs’s iPhone have many things in common. Both are quintessential examples of the things they represent—”man” and “smart phone,” respectively. Both come from the minds of geniuses. Both have curves in all the right places.
Both are beautiful.
Yet there is a major difference between the two—one that demands stating, one that should inform the evaluation of digital infotecture. David is art. The iPhone is not.
Michelangelo’s masterpiece is meant to be looked at, studied, contemplated. Its purpose is to show viewers an ideal man.
And while I admit to occasionally staring at my iPhone in awe of Jony Ive’s design, satisfying my contemplative nature is not its purpose. Its purpose is to make calls and, well, “there’s an app for that.”
David’s purpose is its meaning. The iPhone’s is its utility.
Art is an end in itself. Design is not.
When evaluating information design, it’s important to understand the aesthetics behind the design—insomuch as aesthetics concerns itself with what is beautiful (though not exclusively). People like beautiful things, beautiful experiences.
But it’s equally important to understand the intended function of the information. Is it meant for comparison? For quick reference? For deep study?
Beauty and utility. Both are necessary for good design, for eloquent information. Without the former, people won’t care. Without the latter, it won’t matter how much they care because they won’t be able to access the data.
A design, like a building or a man, should have integrity. That integrity comes from understanding the differences between art and design.