What is the difference between art and design?

Sir Peter Blake

“I’m a rogue graphic designer and I’m a rogue painter”…

A ‘grandee’ of British art, Sir Peter Blake needs little introduction. He has been making memorable, distinctive and wonderful images for some seventy ‘professional’ years. As CCA galleries puts it “His work crosses all generational divides, and inspires great respect from younger artists such as Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, Pure Evil and Tracey Emin.”

He is, perhaps busier than ever.

Given that his work hangs in the Tate and is slotted into most of our record collections, he seems a perfect person so ask ‘What is the difference between art and design? And is there a difference in your approach to them?

The difference between art and design for me… I’m in an almost unique position because my art education was that I went to Junior Art Department, did the old intermediate exam and then did my national diploma. You had to choose at that point whether you wanted to go into commercial art or fine art.

I wanted to do fine art, I was advised to do commercial art. I did the first year of a two-year national diploma as a commercial artist, tried for the Royal Collage as a commercial artist and was accepted as a fine artist. I then did my National Service, so I then started at the Royal Collage as a painter, having never been a painting student.

So I’m a kind of bastard in a way. I’m a rogue graphic designer and I’m a rogue painter. So for me they are exactly the same. So I can bring into fine art the same ethos as I would into graphic design, so it makes me almost unique, in a good sense, but it makes it difficult for some people to accept what I do.

As a fine artist they think I veer too much towards the graphic side, but they don’t understand why. Sometimes as a painter people say ‘oh, he’s just an illustrator’. But in a way it’s both.

So do you approach graphic design as art?

Totally, yes. I approach each job or each painting with exactly the same attitude, so I bring something into graphic design which is unusual, which perhaps you shouldn’t do, because perhaps I don’t understand it, because I only did half a course. And I’m also a painter, so I can bring something rogue into that, and as a painter I can bring graphic design elements in which is rogue.

And if you were to look at someone else’s graphic design – an advertising poster, or a record sleeve are you perceiving those as ‘art’?

Well I think the best graphic designers are also good artists. Take Ben Shahn, Saul Steinberg – there’s a whole list of them. They are both illustrators and artists. Hopefully I come into that kind of cannon…

Peter Blake, A Curate's EggA design by an artist?

Peter Blake, A Curate's Egg

Art by a designer?

Peter Blake, A Curate's EggArt by a designer?

Peter Blake, A Curate's Egg

A design by an artist?

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