Before we begin to consider whether design is art let us look at the various definitions of art from the dictionary:
- Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.
- Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation.
- The products of man’s creative activities.
- The creation of works of beauty or other special significance.
- Synonyms: craft, expertise, knack, know-how, technique
Artisan: A skilled manual worker; a craftsperson.
So there we have it, the definition of art and an artisan – does this help answer the question?
Is art in the eye of the beholder?
There are even more definitions out there, some broader and others more narrow. Entire books have been written on the subject but the definition stays elusive. It seems like nearly every human activity can be considered art, except for… science. Science is the attempt to study the world, not to change it.
I disagree. I think that we design engineers are definitely doing art. We study and acquire skills which we use in creative ways to produce works of beauty. The fact that this beauty can, sometimes, be appreciated by only the learned ones does not change that fact. Isn’t it so with other forms of art, from painting to music, that one must acquire some skills to truly estimate and enjoy them fully?
The artistic value of our product depends on many things. We are not all born equal. Some are better than others, but we are all somewhere on the line between the artisan and the artist. But it is the same with other arts too!
Does appreciation of art come naturally?
Rembrandt was hired to paint the members of the night watch of Amsterdam. He was hired as an artisan, a skilled craftsman. If it was today they would probably have hired a photographer to do the job, or perhaps done it themselves, but it was 1642. Rembrandt, instead of drawing them in a formal frontal painting with all faces showing, made an “artistic” version with some faces hidden. They were very unhappy, of course. Rembrandt lost money but gained fame.
The cave man painter drew pictures of wild horses on the walls of his cave. He probably painted these pictures for practical reasons: begging for divine help to improve the hunt. Was he a skilled “professional” craftsman or an artist?
So, design is art and we are all artists?
Does it matter whether the cave man painter or Rembrandt did their work as artisans or as artists? It is the same work requiring practically the same skills, and done for their living. Exactly as we engineers do!