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Jan 22, 2007


David Airey

Art can be nice to look at, and might have a message, but it's primary purpose is not to solve a problem in a useful way.

Ultimately, anything can be an image. How you made the image doesn't matter, and doesn't determine whether it is design or not. You might have drawn it, spray painted it, made it in PhotoShop, or laid it out with letters in Quark. It's still just an image.

Whether it solves a problem in a useful way matters. A photograph could be design, if it was taken in a way that just the photograph by itself solved the problem and created something useful. An illustration could be design etc. etc.

We have to separate the tools from the activity. A hammer is not building a house, a wrench is not fixing a car. Images (photos, illustrations, text, and so on) are just the tools. How they are used and what they are used for makes them design.


Well I think that's a brilliant post Ben and although I don't expect to contribute any great thinking I would say that yes, it's graphic design and art. I take the Duchamp position that anything can be art. And that art doesn't have to be any good - being crap doesn't, in my opinion, stop it being art and anyway "crapness" is probably a matter of opinion; I love lots of things that many people would chuck away.

I think that this looks like good art, although I suspect it "looked" more interesting in it's original position. I suppose that because it's been recreated it's now contrived rather than spontaneous or grown like it was before.

And because it's in a gallery, surely the audience is different as the context is now "safe" or something.

Personally, I want contemporary art to make me think and have questions. I don't want it to look pretty, there's plenty of old art that does that. I'm also glad that because my art education was rudimentary I see art from a position of ignorance and although it's taken a while to get there I'm comfortable with my uninformed reaction to stuff. I'm not so interested in what the artist's thinking as much as what the art does to my brain.

That's what I think anyway.

Culture is King

Fascinating post and story.

I also think that social semiotics can help us out here. Where the meaning of the 'text' (i.e. the protest posters) are not fixed, but shaped by the social context. In order words, there's nothing innately 'physical' or 'aesthetic' that makes the posters art or design - it's the way cultural meanings are decoded in a social context. Graphically it's been ‘designed’, but in a museum/exhibition etc. it's apparently art because that's what culture tells us.

Perhaps that's also why you feel the posters look better against the grass and stone of Parliament Square: you're appreciating them as things 'designed' to communicate specific intended meanings – as opposed to art objects in a museum where the meanings have been 'highjacked' and transformed into 'cultural capital' for good ol mass consumption.

The irony of course is that you, and now I, are indebted to the latter to ‘appreciate’ the former! ;) Hope that kinda makes some sense. Well, it’s another angle at least...

Bureau L'Imprimante

It's an interesting thing you're pointing at, but the question seems to slowly turn on "Is This Art?".
It's a question that comes on the table much more often than the "Is This Design?" one, because art is (should be) a complex/alien thing that even artists themselves may not be able to define because it is supposed to have no fonction and beeing totally unuseful.
On the other hand design is supposed to be very useful/helpful, answer to specific fonctions, in the user's direction.

But now we may want to put a name on Mark Wallinger's work, right?
If we follow the upper definition of what art is supposed to be (socially unuseful), then it is not. It is a kind of social activism, a bit like Thomas Hirschhorn doing workshops in the parisian suburbs.
But if you look closer, there's an interesting point that you have mentioned and wich is really important, it is the fact that these are copies from the original posters.
And this brings us to a part of art history that starts with Warhol's Brillo, continues with Chuck Mangione and the whole hyperreallistic scene of the '70s, and can be found in Gus Van Sant's Psycho.
This is the main aspect I see in this piece and I do believe it is way more exciting than the social purpose it is supposed to serve.

Matthew Aubie

context context context.


Hi there,

Great post. I haven't been to the exhibition but i do have a couple of thoughts.

I agree that the first picture looks like it is graphic design. But i think that taken together they can be considered art. I'm not quite sure why yet, but i think that as a collection they paint a portrait of how a lot of people felt at the time. (And arguably some still do feel that way).

Just like the first line of a poem, when isolated, could be considered prose, when that line is within the context of a verse or rhyming couplet, it becomes something else.

As you point out, as signs they were initially designed to catch attention and get a message across. There was thought and intention behind it. Yet as a collection of (reproduced) signs, together with other assorted belongings, in the context of what happened to Brian Haw, in a public gallery, they are now something more.

I agree with Richard - i want art to challenge me and make me think (although i don't think it is a pre-requisite). And from what i've seen of State Britian (not a great deal, granted) it does this. But i disagree that art is supposed to serve no purpose and be totally unuseful. If it makes me think, if it challenges my assumptions or eduactes me in some way then it is useful, whether or not the artist deliberately set out to do so.


I've always been fascinated in trying to make the distinction between art and design. Personally, it seems to change, however at the moment...I find all design to be art in some way or another, in the sense that art is both "visual" and "self-expressive". Design tries doing different things than simply expressing one's self (any kind of art is self-expression)...design tries to solve problems. Design is maticulous and researched, and strives to solve the problem, whether it's for a client or otherwise.

Art is purely self-expressive. Even if I were to take "design posters" and claim them to be art, they become art. I'm expressing an idea. Duchamp had a similar idea, I think, with his upside-down urinal.

Then again, sometimes I wonder if the greatest works of art by Renaissance artists were really design...were they not hired or commissioned by a client to fill a need? It seems most works of art expressed the belief in God, so they were designed for a specific purpose.


I think the issue is even more complicated. By being declared "art" and brought inside a museum, the signs lose their immediacy - they're deadened to me. It becomes a passive exhibit instead of an aggressive attempt to change people's minds.

Yet, at the same time, I'd be more likely to listen to the message in the museum, when it's isolated and I'm in a more reflective mood, then when it's outside, and there are a million interests competing for my attention. So the question I'm left is, how relevant is graphic design when it sits in a museum?

Joe Moran

I once interviewed with an "ad" guy. He asked me what the difference between design and advertising was. I said something to the effect of "not much."

I was young and stupid.

I wonder what today's designer would answer to that question?

Or, more to the point: What is the difference between fine art, commercial art, advertising art, craft, etc. ?

This could get messy.



I think I felt the same as Valerie - deadened to the poster's emotions.

MJ and Matthew make very valid points about the context, and MJ about the story since the posters were first produced.

I'm really enjoying this, thanks everyone.

Dave C.

Simple - It is design displayed for its artistic qualities as a group. If it were one poster that said "Save Brian", then it might not have garnered the attention it now has, and not been displayed in a museum. Bringing the group together and then placing it in a museum to also represent is socio-political importance is what makes it art.

This wouldn't be the first time poster were referred to as art. Consider Toulouse Lautrec.

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