Essay, Feb 2021
Design / Art

Design and art are both about embodiment. Design is about posture, and art is about gesture. Design is about presentation, art is about what is presented.

Products / Pieces

Things made by the design process are products. Things made by the artistic process are pieces. You know intuitively that saying art product or design piece is wrong.

The artistic process creates a piece of the world. The artist understands how to channel the world’s qualities into a form. The designer, on the other hand, makes a product. Like a farmer fostering a healthy plot of land, the designer aligns with natural processes in hopes of a good yield.

In Tibetan, the word drala means “the magical quality of existence, or natural wisdom” (from Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior). Design is summoning drala; art is embodying it.

Close / Far

Humans design to live. We are machetes through the bamboo forest, prows through the ocean — so that we arrive back at nature. This arrival is art. We design to approach that thing that’s fundamentally out of reach.

The beauty of nature is that it hides. You can sit in a forest for any length of time, and new ways to perceive it will continuously present themselves. New creatures, new sounds, new revelations. In contrast, the beauty of design is that it comes right up to us. Design is close and nature is far.

Functionality is when you’re allowed to be close. Awe is when you’re allowed to be far.

Meaning is a simultaneous, non-conflicting closeness and distance, like sitting next to an old, familiar friend to watch the sun rising over a new day. Or an old drawer spun out of an oak tree. Or a necklace made out of lion’s teeth, following the line of the collarbone.

In the same sense that science and meditation are both means to understanding, design and art must be handled in tandem but preserved in contrast.

Design / Art sit on the same axis as:

Journey / Vista
Trellis / Vines
Hand of God / Image of God
Structure / Fluid
System / Life
Speech / Song
Distinctions / Oneness
Body / Soul
How / Why
Toward / Beyond