The graphic designer is a visual communicator who transmits messages from a client to an audience. The message must be clear and free of the distracting presence of the designer, because a designer's personal biases and feelings are irrelevant to the client's message. However, work produced by some contemporary designers has challenged the notion of clear visual communication and problem-solving. It is self-expressive, ambiguous, and open to interpretation, taking on characteristics traditionally associated with fine art rather than graphic design. While the production and viewing of some graphic design is becoming a more private experience, the reverse is true in fine art. In the art world, individuals and groups are using methods of mass communication and mass production to address non-art audiences. They also have a social agenda which aims at informing and communicating. Are the boundaries between graphic design and fine art crumbling? Are we witnessing a redefinition of graphic design? This thesis was an attempt at answering those questions through the examination of relevant issues, and an investigation of the current state of contemporary graphic design. Research has shown that graphic design may be experiencing an identity crisis. Until now, the definition of graphic design has been inextricably tied to modernism. Modernism stresses clarity and objectivity. However, the work of David Carson, Rudy Vanderlans, or April Greiman does not fit the modernist mold. The many layers in these works seem almost chaotic, they are not easily understandable nor very legible. Moving away from modernism, this work is representative of postmodernism with its emphasis on complexity, pluralism, and the impossibility of universal meaning. This conflict between modernism and postmodernism is shaping graphic design today, and it may be forcing the redefinition of graphic design. A survey was developed. Its purpose was to determine aspects which may influence a viewer's perception of art and design such as context, intent, technology, sponsorship, etc. The survey was distributed to students and faculty in the School of Art and Design and the School for American Crafts. However, the responses could not be neatly categorized: they were as diverse as the individuals answering them. Some of those individuals demonstrated confusion concerning graphic design and fine art. Questions were answered with more questions, and it became clear that no issue could be resolved, only perhaps clarified. Based on the research and the results of this survey, a book was written and designed for an audience of freshmen students in the School of Art and Design. It attempts to identify and clarify the various points of view regarding the relationship of art and design, and provides a theoretical and historical background to that relationship. The goal was to assist students in a better understanding of each other's discipline of study, as well as an understanding of where they belong in the greater currents of art and design movements, ideologies, and history.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Graphic arts--Public opinion; Art--Public opinion; Art audiences--Attitudes; Art surveys

Publication Date


Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

School of Design (CIAS)


Lightfoot, Tom

Advisor/Committee Member

Polowy, Barbara


Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works. Physical copy available through RIT's The Wallace Library at: NC998.4 .M664 1995


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