December 6, 2023

Graphic Design vs. The Arts: Visual, Fine, and Digital

By B&SC Blog Team

Graphic Design vs. The Arts: Visual, Fine, and Digital

Some of the finest works of art spanning history are also some of the hardest to define. By their very nature, art and its expressions frequently elude the confines of specific definitions, categorizations, or interpretations.

On the other hand, certain genres and forms of art aim to communicate a targeted message or convey a particular emotion. Between visual art and graphic design, graphic design takes a more goal-oriented and communicative approach, often for the purpose of spreading messages, information, and ideas in a visual way.

Of course, this is not to say a graphic designer cannot be an artist (or vice versa); in fact, many people’s decision to pursue graphic design is sparked by an interest in or practice of art as a hobby. Not to mention that graphic design can certainly be considered a form of art, whereas most renderings of art are not graphic design.

Given the undeniable overlap of and gray area between the visual arts and graphic design, we delve into their key differences below-comparing and contrasting the main types of art and examining them against graphic design as both an art and a practical career path.

What Is Graphic Design?

A form of applied art, graphic design combines text and pictures (aka “graphics”) in published material with a specific purpose in mind. This creative discipline involves the use of visual elements, typography, and layout to communicate messages, information, or ideas. It is the art and practice of planning and arranging visual content to convey a specific message or achieve a particular purpose. Graphic designers use various design principles, tools, and techniques to create visually appealing and effective designs for a wide range of applications.

What Is Art?

While “the arts” refers to a broad spectrum of creative, performative endeavors, art in the visual sense can be defined as expressions of human imagination and emotions that are appreciated for their beauty or sentimental power.

The concept of art is complex and multifaceted, and it has been a subject of debate and discussion for centuries. What one person considers art, another may not. Plus, artistic movements and styles have evolved over time. For instance, contemporary art often pushes the boundaries of traditional definitions, challenging viewers to reconsider their understanding of what constitutes art. Some purists may consider only the finest, most detailed pieces to be “real” art, while others may argue that anyone has the ability to make art.

Ultimately, art is a form of creative self-expression encompassing a vast range of human activities, practices, and works that evoke emotional, intellectual, or aesthetic responses in those who experience it. Unlike graphic design, which often has a defined starting point and objective, art may exist outside the bounds of clear beginning and end points and express a totally new idea when inspiration strikes.

Visual Arts

“Visual art” is a more encompassing term referring to all forms of art that primarily rely on visual elements. Visual art can serve a multitude of purposes, be they functional, decorative, or commercial, making it a diverse and versatile category within the broader realm of artistic expression. Common examples of visual art forms include:

Painting – The application of pigments to a surface, typically canvas or paper, using a variety of techniques and styles

Sculpture – Three-dimensional artworks created by shaping or carving materials such as stone, wood, metal, or clay

Drawing – Making two-dimensional images using pencils, charcoal, ink, or other materials on paper or other surfaces

Printmaking – Techniques like etching, woodcut, lithography, and silkscreening to create multiple copies of an image from an original plate or block

Photography and Videography – The art of capturing images and videos using cameras and photographic techniques

Fine Arts

Historically, the fine arts-or “beautiful” arts, in some translations-embodied works of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry. However, in a modern context, most consider fine art a subset of visual artwork that is culturally valuable, significant, or historically esteemed for its aesthetic and expressive qualities.

Fine art stands apart from popular art and entertainment in that its consumers-at least in theory-need a refined sense of judgment and aesthetics to fully appreciate it. In contrast to other visual arts, fine art focuses on portraying beauty, unrestricted by the need for practical applications. Famous examples of fine art include Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam and the architecture of the Colosseum in Rome.

Digital Arts

Also known as new media art, multimedia art, or electronic art, digital art is created using digital technology such as computer-generated imagery, animations, and interactive installations. This includes forms of video art, which may present elements of storytelling, documentary, or experimental visuals.

When considering graphic design versus graphic art, the latter involves producing visual materials that relay stories and emotions to viewers through digital media. The work may incorporate more abstract principles and techniques than a graphic designer generally would. Graphic artists use software, photography, or other digital tools for projects like creating book covers, cartoon and video game animations, art for ads, designs for décor, or images and storyboards for TV or movies.

Graphic Design vs. Visual Arts

Though the lines are sometimes blurred between the visual arts and graphic design, let’s dive into the key differences between the work of a graphic designer and that of the art forms described above.

Who Creates the Work, and for Whom?

Artists typically create artwork as a form of self-expression based on their own vision and personal interests. While some artists may take commissions, many make art for the sake of art, without direct client input or commercial goals. Some artists might work for museums as exhibition curators, which can be an excellent way to put their skills to use without actually producing any art.

Most graphic design professionals hold a degree in graphic design, as opposed to other artists, who might have earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts or be otherwise professionally trained in their niche. Graphic designers often work on client-commissioned projects, following specific guidelines and objectives set by the clients or businesses for tasks related to branding, advertising, or promotional materials.

Clients have diverse needs for graphic designers to develop work for:

• Layouts for websites or apps

• Layouts for newspapers, magazines, or other publications

• Brand identity, including color schemes and logos

• Packaging for products

• Signs for stores, billboards, or events

What Are the Goals?

Graphic design is primarily focused on creating visual content with a predetermined purpose, many times for commercial or communication purposes. Graphic designers use visual elements, typography, and layout to convey information, promote services, or communicate a specific message. Compared to artists, graphic designers are typically more focused on functional aspects, such as legibility, clarity, and user experience. They aim to create designs that are visually appealing but also serve a practical purpose, such as marketing a product or delivering information. Their work is usually intended to solve specific design problems and meet the needs of clients or businesses.

Art may not always have a clear and direct commercial or communicative intent. The arts incorporate a broader range of creative expression, and although art can certainly communicate ideas and emotions, its primary purpose is often subjective-meant for self-expression, the exploration of concepts, or simply aesthetic enjoyment. Artists generally create work that is more open to interpretation and prioritizes their own vision.

How Is the Art Created?

Though the term “graphics” can encompass both physical and digital images, nowadays almost all graphic design work is performed on computers. However, skills in illustration or drawing by hand would come in handy, as graphic designers often whip up rough sketches to help outline how a design might look on a page.

Graphic designers work with various print and digital media, including websites, logos, brochures, posters, and advertisements. They use digital tools and software like Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign; Sketch; Figma; and more to create and manipulate visual content.

Artists work with a wide range of mediums, tools, and techniques, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and more. The choice of medium and technique is generally driven by the artist’s creative expression and intent, as there are countless ways to create art these days.

Where Do They Work?

In addition to taking more traditional routes or working for larger companies, graphic designers can be self-employed or specialize in particular niches or industries based on their interests and skill sets.

Graphic designers may work for:

• Advertising agencies

• In-house design departments

• Marketing and PR firms

• Web and digital design firms

• Print and online publishing organizations

• Government and non-profit organizations

• Design, motion graphics, or animation studios

• Product design and packaging projects

• Exhibition and environmental design projects

• Gaming or fashion companies

• Online and brick-and-mortar retailers

• Themselves, as freelancers

Meanwhile, artists might work for:

• Studios

• Galleries

• Museums

• Film and animation studios

• Art schools and universities

• Workshops and art retreats

• Theater companies

• Art therapy practices

• Online platforms

• Themselves, as freelancers at home, in a studio, or in public spaces

Start Your Graphic Design Journey With Bryant & Stratton

Graphic design is a versatile field; with applications across many industries, these professionals can carve a unique path for themselves where their passions and technical training can work in tandem. Aside from its creative aspects, effective graphic design can also have a significant impact on how people perceive and engage with digital content, making it a crucial part of modern communication and marketing efforts.

Interested in turning your knack for art and design into a career? At Bryant & Stratton College, we offer design degree programs such as the Associate of Applied Science in Graphic Design (AAS) that explore elements of quality design through in-depth courses. Our graphic design degree program provides practical, hands-on experience to help ensure students are job-ready. If this sounds up your alley, get in touch with Bryant & Stratton today by requesting more information online.

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