SOME FALSE DICHOTOMIES BETWEEN TEACHING DESIGN AND TEACHING FINE ARTS
The standard “fine art” educational model evolves from the Renaissance notion of
the individual genius artist, who, having learned the fundamentals through an
apprenticeship with a master, works alone in his studio communing with his muse
making works of genius for the aristocracy.
Contemporary “fine art” programs teach students tools, techniques, and
methodologies. By the junior year, they give each student a studio/cubicle from
which to make work and commune with his or her muse. While “fine art” programs
do a decent job nurturing aesthetic self-expression and making work for the gallery
and the museum, they often do a poor job teaching students how to define and solve
problems critically, how to collaborate, and how to question the role of art in
The standard contemporary model for teaching “design” evolves from the
notion of the artisan/craftsperson who serves the needs of the client (that is, the state
or the corporation).
In most design programs, the teacher is a stand-in for the client, supplying the
project/problem to the students throughout their entire undergraduate and graduate
careers. Credits and grades ultimately are replaced by salaries and awards. Often,
when it comes to senior or graduate thesis projects, design educators find themselves
frustrated by the design students’ inability to define their own projects. It’s no
wonder! Design students have, in the main, not been encouraged to think for
themselves or develop their own ideas or vision.
Emptying the Spoon, Enlarging the Plate:
Some Thoughts on Graphic Design
Both fine art and design teaching models are too limited. Many of the best
practitioners of art and design today defy these artificial barriers, erected by art and
design academies. It’s understandable that a formerly adolescent design profession
was in need of establishing its own, completely separate identity. Perhaps it’s time
for a supervised reunion.
Graphic design was forged in the early twentieth century out of revolutionary
art, literary, cultural, scientific, and political movements. It developed as a
professional art practice imbued with the ideals of making a better world. While
proudly teaching the heady “pioneer” days of graphic design—as practiced by
poets, painters, language artists, utopians, and revolutionaries—many design
programs go on to base their training on a relatively narrow slice of contemporary
design practice, that of the corporate service model.