Milton Glaser on art and design

“In some areas the objectives of art and design are harmonious and congruent. Confusion often arises in those instances when the disciplines and objectives are separate. In design, there is a given body of information that must be conveyed if the audience is to experience the information. That objective is primary in most design activities. On the other hand, the essential function of art is to change or intensify one’s perception of reality. Through most of history perception and information existed simultaneously in works of art. The stained-glass windows at Chartres tell the story of the stations of the cross to a non-literate public… and great artists were used to that end. As society developed, the information and the art function diverged, and distinctions were made between high art and communicating information to increasing numbers of people. High art, of course, is supposed to have the more elevating characteristics.

The reason new forms usually don’t emerge from the design activity – as they do in what we’ll call the art activity – is that design in many ways is a vernacular language. Design-related work assumes that the audience addressed has an a priori understanding of the vocabulary. The essential heart of most art activity is the self-expressive potentiality that the form offers, enlarging therefore the possibilities for the invention of new modes of perception for both the artist and the audience. Meaningful works address us in a way that alters our perception of our reality. Walking past a forest we might say, ‘That looks like a Cézanne’, the implication being that Cézanne has altered our visual perception of forests. Design works differently. It conveys information based on the audience’s previous understanding.”

— Milton Glaser (Graphis, 1973)