Although there are apparent differences between these two, say, genres, this will not be yet another discussion concerned with separating their domains. Let’s take a different look at this topic and see if there are deeper cultural reasons for making such distinctions.
We can trace this debate back to Ancient Greeks and the question of mimesis argued about between Plato and Aristotle. Basically, this is a question of representation, and whether the subject which is represented is internal – an idea, concept, or external – nature. This calls for two different types of response – one being intellectual, and the other being, to put it real simple, emotional.
This is, in a way, what we see now as a debate between the fine arts and graphic design. In this regard, we can look at graphic design as the pre-existing concept, a Platonic idea translated into an act of visual signification.
In the twentieth century, there has come to an increased interest in signs and signification, due to a linguistic turn. The surrounding world came to be regarded as an intricate play of signs. Naturally, a need for de-sign arose.
The Need For Graphic Design
Graphic design was created in order to mediate the messages to the public (oversaturated by different, and oftentimes contradictory, information). Rather than being led to think critically we became led into thinking.
A design is hence a sort of a visual thought pattern, a visual matrix designed to convey, and reshape a certain meaning. Marketing, fashion, politics quickly started teeming with visual signifiers, infiltrating our tastes, and orchestrating our thoughts and desires.
The Need For Traditional Arts
Things got more complicated with the digital age, and, truly, the question arises of whether there is any substantial place left for the traditional art, and painting in particular. Of course, it is inevitable to say that – yes, it is still alive, as we can see many enjoying the artistry of traditional painting methods, such as Instapainting artists who take photos and make them come alive on canvas.
But what is the core motivation of such means of production? One way of looking at this could be through the frame of Aristotelian mimesis, as a way of triggering an emotional response. It is, in fact, a matter of whether one finds it relatable. It is hard to say that a piece of graphic design could be found relatable. However, this does not exclude digital art.
So, what’s the deal with traditional media?
Media Itself As A Sign
It is already clear that famous paintings have been used, not as artwork for itself, but as signs.
So when we think of Mona Lisa, we don’t normally think of the mere painting but that which it represents in our culture. That may very well be the case with the media itself.
We can see this in the vintage counter-culture for example. It is not the actual need for gramophones and old-fashioned radios, but rather it can be regarded as a cluster of signs which refer to a collective nostalgia. Counter-culture is actually a semiotic reaction.
Sign Or Practice
Or it can be the fact that we want the original, not the copy, but we can only come to that conclusion if we regard this as a sign of value. In other words, everything now is a copy of a copy of a copy and this is an expression of the desire for the unique and the unrepeatable.
That which is immediate, unchangeable and which can only happen once is the exact opposite of the digital age ideology, and traditional arts could, in that case, be seen as a counter-culture. Can this grow into a true cultural reaction at some point or will the traditional art become a mere sign, devoid of practice?