Insight - 05/22/23

Designer as Artist

7 min

By Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman

Exploring the Intersection of Design, Craft, and Art

Design is often thought of as a practical discipline, focused on creating functional objects or systems. However, design can also be seen as a form of art, with designers as artists who use their skills and creativity to produce beautiful and meaningful objects. The art of making, whether it be through design or craft, has evolved over time. Designers and makers have constantly sought to create aesthetically pleasing and functional pieces, and the question of whether a piece of design or craft needs to be functional remains a topic of debate. This article explores the relationship between design and craft, Designer as Artist, the role of aesthetics in both fields, and the differences between handcrafted and mass-produced pieces.

Craft and design have a long history of overlap and collaboration. Many areas of design, such as jewelry, furniture, ceramics, and fashion, are also considered crafts. The difference between craft and design lies in the production process. Craft emphasizes the action of creating something with your hands, using historic techniques and a mastery of materials. Design, on the other hand, often involves the use of technology, mass production, and a focus on functionality.

Design and Art

The boundaries between design and art have blurred over time, leading to the emergence of the concept of “designer as artist”. Many designers are motivated and inspired by materials, and find joy in mastering various mediums. For example, the furniture designs of Charles and Ray Eames are often considered works of art due to their innovative use of materials and attention to detail.

Another example of a designer as an artist could be the fashion designer Alexander McQueen. McQueen’s runway shows were known for their elaborate and theatrical presentations that often incorporated sculpture, performance art, and other elements beyond just the clothing. His designs were not only functional but also conceptual and thought-provoking, pushing the boundaries of what could be considered traditional fashion design.

Aesthetics play a significant role in the relationship between design and craft. The intricacy and attention to detail that goes into creating furniture or ceramics can be appreciated when examining them. Aesthetics are crucial in communicating the intended message of the piece in both design and craft. Although functionality is often a central focus of design, it is not always necessary for a piece to be considered good design. Some designs are created purely for their aesthetic value or to make a statement or evoke an emotional response. The same can be said for craft, where many are functional, but some are purely decorative or conceptual. For example, the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly are considered works of art for their beauty and innovative use of color, despite not having a specific functional purpose.

Craft as a Preconceived Notion

The term “craft” often carries a negative connotation, as it is associated with being amateurish or not up to par with professional design. However, this is not always the case. The act of creating something with one’s hands can result in beautiful and functional pieces. Jewelry, furniture, ceramics, and fashion all fall under the category of craft.

While the method of fabrication is a key difference between craft and design, it’s important to note that there is often overlap between these two fields. While craft pieces are typically one-of-a-kind and made by hand, there are many designers who incorporate handcrafted techniques into their work, resulting in pieces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Similarly, while design pieces are often mass-produced, there are many designers who create limited-edition or one-of-a-kind pieces that blur the line between design and craft.

One example of a designer who blurs the line between design and craft is the fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. Kawakubo’s work with her label Comme des Garçons is often described as avant-garde, with pieces that challenge traditional notions of fashion and design. Many of her pieces are handcrafted, with a focus on the techniques and materials used to create them. While her pieces are often mass-produced, there is a strong emphasis on craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Another example of the intersection of craft and design is the work of the lighting designer Lindsey Adelman. Adelman’s pieces are all handcrafted in her New York studio, with a focus on the techniques and materials used in their creation. While her pieces are often produced in limited editions, there is a strong emphasis on the craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into each piece.

The Future of Craft

There is a growing concern that craft is a threatened field. As technology continues to advance and mass production becomes the norm, the art of handmade objects is in danger of being lost. However, there are still many people who are interested in learning craft skills, and there are a variety of ways in which they can do so. While academic classes such as those offered by Pratt Institute, can be a great resource, not everyone has access to them. Many people learn craft skills from family members, friends, or online tutorials.

Despite the challenges facing the craft industry, there is still a bright future for handmade objects. Creative marketplaces, craft communities, studio rentals, and shared maker spaces are all helping to promote and preserve the art of craft. Additionally, there is a growing appreciation for the value of handmade objects, and designers and consumers alike are recognizing the unique beauty and quality that comes from a handcrafted piece.

Design and Craft: Learning from Each Other

Finally, it is important to recognize the ways in which design and craft can learn from each other. Hands-on making is an influential process that can make better designers, and designers who understand craft techniques can create more thoughtful and meaningful designs. One example of this is the success of the ceramics brand Franca, which emphasizes the importance of craftsmanship, design, and artistry in its products.

The relationship between design and craft is complex, with both fields valuing aesthetics and functionality. While craft is often seen as a preconceived notion, it can be a valuable skill that should be celebrated. As the creative industry evolves, the intersection of design and craft will continue to be a source of inspiration and innovation.

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