A common source of frustration I often see among Creatives, and especially more junior Designers and Art Directors, is in confusing the work they do for clients with Art. It’s an easy error. After all, the process of creating visuals and ideas for brands shares many of the same craft skills and aesthetic aspirations with creating art, but there is an extremely important difference: work in service of a client’s business goals has to answer to an entirely different set of criteria than work created to satisfy an internally motived expressive need.
The first criterion is that graphic design functions to communicate an overt text: “Stop!”, “15% off,” “Cease fire in Gaza,” “your life will be complete when you buy this,” etc. Art can also communicate an overt message, but doesn’t need to.
The second, and probably more important difference, is that the agenda of the designer is subordinate to the agenda of the client. (It’s true that commissioned art projects, including portraits and the like fall into this category, but I would argue that the artist engaged in a commission would do well think of him or herself as a kind of designer for the purposes of the project). Conversely, if the project is self-initiated, I would argue that the work is probably Art, even if the practitioner is known as a designer (Sagmeister’s sabbatical projects come to mind).
This isn’t to say that design can’t be artistic, or that art can’t employ the grammar of design, but that they are initiated differently, serve different masters and ultimately mean different things.