I am enrolled in a school with an enriched art and design program.
This exposes me to wonderfully creative people, teachers, and even projects.
However, there is rampant and insidious side-effect that comes with a program like this, and that is design elitism.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with the supportive environment, and most of the students turn out to be understanding and humble artists, many artists reach a vanity plateau which skews their perception of not only their own designs, but others around them.
This vanity fundamentally roots from artists getting so caught up in their compliments and ego that they lock themselves into their comfort zone and style and focus more on a flashy and overly polished design than an effective one. There is no need to push boundaries, attempt new styles, or even try to understand what design means when the average person is either unable to, or afraid to criticize, simply because they cannot do better themselves. Artists begin to lose sight of artistic integrity in favour of seeking a reaction or reward, and ever so subtly, the beauty is lost.
A wise man once told me that a good design must appeal to three audiences: your client, your peers, and yourself.
Appealing to the client can either be the easiest or the hardest part of design, it's simply a matter of conformity. Often this sacrifices artistic integrity, but at the end of the day it's what puts the food on the table.
Appealing to your artistic peers, and even yourself, takes a much greater deal of understanding, experimentation, and most importantly, humility.
Often times, young designers can get caught up in appealing to the client, simply because it is the most rewarding group to appeal to. Rather than accepting one's shortcomings and improvements that must be made, the artist settles simply for something that looks "cool". Be it for the purpose of conveying a message, to sell a product, or to have a practical use, design should be beautiful in it's function, not it's form.
Pop music presents a wonderful parallel to the design elitism that can be found amongst young artists.
Most people who are musically inclined don't consider what is on mainstream radio stations to be music, simply because it is meaningless and overproduced.
Many would agree that music by artists like Justin Bieber or Nicki Minaj is nothing more meaningless drivel that is meant for entertainment value, rather than artistic value, but what is it that sets it apart?
The answer lies in the subtleties. Pop music is perfectly crafted for the non-musician, using aesthetically pleasing chords and progressions, and using rhythms and syllabic structures that are meant to be catchy. In fact, attention is often paid to adding just enough dissonance to make the song sound original, while still sounding pleasing to the ear on a simple level. However, this craving for the aesthetically pleasing leaves no room for advanced technical skill, or expressive and experimental structures that can be found in classical or jazz music, and through these limitations substance is lost.
Drawing this parallel into design plays back into the issue of creating a piece simply to be "cool". As the young artist tries to establish a style for themselves, they must undergo a process of imitation and experimentation. Sometimes, the young artist may restrict themselves to a few muses and never learn to think for themselves. Rather than delving into more advanced techniques such as proper light theory, colour theory, or even font kerning, they restrict themselves to mimicking the aesthetics.
Stylistically, the works become sad exaggerations and bastardizations, but leaving the everyday examiner none the wiser. Of course it can be argued that there is nothing wrong with producing work meant to mimick an aesthetic, in the same way that there is nothing objectively wrong with pop music, but by stripping the work of artistic integrity, one loses the appeal to one's peers, but more importantly to oneself.
Design elitism stems from creating a dichotomy between "good" and "bad" design.
Rather than looking at the merits of the design, and how it could be improved, the young designer is quick to judge that a piece is good or bad according to stylistic preference.
An air of arrogance is apparent as the young artist begins to openly criticize every other design while stating nothing about their own art.
Disguised by imitated aesthetics, the young artist passes themself off as a pinnacle of design, expecting the world to take notice of how "good" their art looks while making every effort not to simply state, or even think that opinion for themselves.
Of course this mindset is never outrightly apparent. Although I do not consider myself a good artist by any means, I have always known myself to be a pretentious, cynical design elitist myself. The key to breaking the mindset is as simple as becoming aware of it. The same ego that places one's own work above all others is what prevents the design elitist from realizing it, because it cannot allow itself to be viewed as cocky or arrogant.
By accepting this ego as an obstacle, the young artist can break the plateau and approach art and design with the true open mind that is necessary to improve, rather than the delusion of open-mindedness that is mimicked off of others. It all boils down to the humility required to create a design that appeals to one's peers and oneself. More importantly, one must learn to break this dichotomy of good and bad design, and learn to think critically and analyze a piece for it's merits, rather than it's stylistic aesthetics. This shift of thought is the beginning of an artist's maturity.
It's important to understand that there is no way that art and design can be objectified.
There is no way that beauty can be defined, and there is no way to truly understand the ego.
For these reasons, the elitism found amongst some designers and artists will never go away, simply because it can never be truly defined as wrong.
However, whether the design elitist produces amazing works, or mediocre imitations disguised as such, one fact still remains: