Fine Artist or Graphic Designer?

You might think you want a fine artist. But you probably don’t. You probably–whether you realize this or not–want a graphic designer. Which begs the question: what, exactly, is the difference? You’re going to get a different answer depending on who you ask, but for me it comes down to perspective. A fine artist communicates their own personal opinion through their work, whereas a graphic designer communicates a specific message at the behest of an equally specific client. Both are artists, but they’re different kinds of artists.

Composition, color choice…both disciplines require both. There’s no kind of art that’s intrinsically harder, or more worthwhile, than any other. When it comes to commissions, though, success comes from, first and foremost, understanding what it is you actually want. Once you do, finding the right artist becomes a lot easier.

So the first question you should ask yourself is: what message do I want to send?

If it’s “my band is awesome,” or something equally specific, then chances are you want a graphic designer. Especially if you envision your finished piece as containing certain elements. People approach me all the time with requests like, “I want you to paint these people, like in this picture, over this background.” That’s art, for sure–but it’s not the kind of art you need, or actually want, a painter for. You want someone capable of creating this specific message.

Give me a commission and what you get is going to be less about your band and more about my feelings about that one specific tree. You know, the one you liked for your background. Or whatever. The point is, what gets me going every day is seeing things my own way. Give me a random basket of junk and I’ll create something out of it. I have the skill set to create my message; I’d need completely different talents–and, to be honest, interests–to create yours.

Now there is, to me, a middle ground: commercial artists. There are people out there who’ll happily render your cat, or grandmother, in crystal clarity. Maybe in oils, or some other so-called “traditional” medium, but these days probably digitally. And the disappointing truth is that, either way, they probably relied heavily on technology. When people ask me if I can “do this photograph, but in [my] style,” they don’t realize that they’re essentially asking for a filter. There are brushstroke filters, many of which are quite realistic. Especially after the piece is printed on canvas, stretched, and gussied up with some “paint” strokes. Which is, I’m sorry to say, what most commercial “portraits” actually are.

Is this art? Sure. Handicrafts are art. As some of you know, I also paint models; I love making something look like something else. But again, these are two different skillsets. Don’t pay my prices, especially for something that might not be what you actually want at all, when there’s something better–for you–out there.

I’d say that 90% of the people who approach me about commissions don’t actually want my art. They want x, y, and z elements, arranged in a certain way, but “in my style.” The thing is, though, my style–any artist’s style–is about a lot more than brushstrokes. What you’re really paying for, with me or with any fine artist, is my perspective. Which is that art should do something a camera can’t. Had I wanted to be a photographer, or indeed a graphic designer (or one of a hundred other things), I’d have been one.

Your thoughts?