“Art is a thing of the senses.” For me, this statement conveys the difference between art and design, or art and craft. Art has the luxury to provoke an exclusively emotive response—design and craft need to work for a living. Where art can live in a place that can sometimes be obtuse in its meaning, graphic design and handcraft need to be clear and legible about their purpose—without clarity or function their beauty is at risk.
Art can instruct and inspire design, though, and provide a space for experimentation and play that isn’t always available in the everyday life of design. Designers borrow and adapt from art to keep “fresh” and interesting to their audience (and themselves). Art has been know to borrow from design, too, throwing icons from popular culture back at us for reconsideration.
I like to think of graphic design as craft. Like older forms of craft, it’s based in certain traditions that are passed from one practitioner/mentor to another, with a practicum or apprenticeship as a requisite part of the training. It’s not an individual pursuit. It is always a collaboration with at least one other party and more often a collaboration with many other skilled workers. Unlike art, design isn’t done for the designer. It’s usually in the service of another’s idea or message, like a potter who would make a beautiful set of dishes for meals to be shared around the table.