Self Portrait of Alan Just

I’m on a quest.

I cringe when remembering the dumb stuff that came out of my mouth during my early days of design reviews or art critiques. Eesh! The mishmash of words I uttered with aplomb... embarrassing!
I’ve come to realize that many people, including my past self, need clarity about the distinctions between Art, Design, and Decorative Art, as well as the purposes they serve and how they differ from one another.
Are these different labels for the same activity and purpose? Or do they vary significantly enough to warrant clear boundaries? And what’s the price of remaining uninformed?
My aim is to demystify these differences for you. Two groups stand to benefit greatly from this knowledge:
  1. Those responsible for purchasing, managing, or directing marketing and sales materials (indeed, design and artwork function as business tools).
  2. Designers, illustrators, and artists hired by the first group to produce marketing and sales materials.
Let’s be frank here. Nobody benefits when the first group uses unclear terminology to guide the efforts of designers or artists. Offering instructions or feedback that amounts to gibberish incurs emotional and financial costs. And it’s somewhat ironic that most designers and artists could use some clarity on these distinctions, further exacerbating the confusion.
Recent research in behavioral psychology sheds light on this common problem - misunderstanding due to varied interpretations of the same word. One enlightening study states, “Even when two individuals use the same word, they do not necessarily agree on its meaning.”
Delving further into this topic, a fascinating Scientific American article presents the surprising variability in people’s understanding of even a simple concept such as ‘Penguin.’
Clear and succinct communication leads to superior Design and Artwork at a predictable and productive pace, making the experience emotionally satisfying for all parties involved.
How do we achieve this? The answer is simple - MASTER THE VOCABULARY AND LANGUAGE of Art and Design!
I’ve penned three exciting articles that break down the muddle between Art, Design (learn more about the differences), and Decorative Art. It bugs me how their definitions and terms get all mixed up. During moments of instruction or feedback, jargon is frequently used out of context, whether borrowed from fashion, corporate speak, or any field where ‘Design’ tags along at the end, much to everyone’s confusion. More often than not, this leads to creating unclear or unengaging messages and images, wasting everyone's time and resources.
How do we overcome this? I repeat - MASTER THE VOCABULARY AND LANGUAGE of Art and Design! Don’t fake it!
To clarify the distinctions, Artwork created in the service of Design or decoration is called Illustration or Decorative Art. Conversely, Fine Art, or Art, serves a different purpose. The confusion arises because all three categories abide by the same visual rules of color, scale, and composition. They use the same materials, tools, and techniques, too. It’s easy to be confused.
I hope that what I’ve jotted down will turn those art critiques and design reviews into something more enjoyable and valuable. I’ve also dropped in some references (and links) to some folks who are really into this kind of thing.
Caveat emptor: The moment you think your creation is absolutely spot-on, or just perfet, a “friend” drops a note to tell you that you’ve misspelled “perfect”. Buyer beware!
This site will often change, always trying to improve and communicate clearly. You’ve heard of second chances. Well, more often than not, I need a third, fourth, fifth…
I hope that you will revisit it often and share it with someone needing enlightenment.