IS A newspaper art? What about a flier for an upcoming event? Or the menu design for your favorite restaurant?
It’s easy to forget that basically every piece of media you encounter was conceptualized, designed and re-designed by a graphic designer, whose efforts and skill at directing your eye and commanding your attention are undoubtedly an art.
Just the same, it’s rare to see graphic design celebrated as an art form in its own right—much less in a gallery setting. In fact, at Armstrong University it’s never been done before.
Bazaar Conceptions, an exhibition of graphic design works by Haley Geller, Holly Nance, CC Witt, Kim Crabtree and Elizabeth Rhaney, is the first of its kind at the university. There has never been an all-graphic design exhibition in the school’s history.
The show is currently on display and open to the public at Armstrong’s Fine Arts Gallery (located inside the Fine Arts building) through March 30. Bazaar Conceptions will have an opening reception on Friday, March 25 at 5:30pm with artist talks from each of the five participating designers at 6pm.
To communicate the commercial nature of the artwork and encourage viewer interaction, the exhibition is set up like a marketplace.
“We have our own niches. We have our own styles,” Elizabeth Rhaney explains. “We want to show how varied [graphic design] is and how there’s not one specific meaning to it. We just want people to come and say ‘Oh! This is graphic design? I had no idea.’”
For her part, Rhaney will be exhibiting her branding creations for two fictitious companies, showing off her ability to relate a company’s identity strictly through design.
Haley Geller has built a completely functional juice bar, complete with branded cups, stickers and a menu.
CC Witt, who is also a musician, is exhibiting the t-shirt and CD cover designs she created for her band Lyn Avenue.
Kim Crabtree is presenting her designs for a fictitious music festival via a merch table and is also exhibiting her newspaper layouts for The Inkwell, Armstrong’s student-run newspaper. (Crabtree functions as the paper’s layout editor.)
Holly Nance’s contribution comes in the form of her greeting cards and mugs.
Some may struggle to view this as an art exhibition, but those doubts arise from narrow conceptions about the definition of “art”. Strong design requires all the effort, time, consideration and intentionality of strong artistic compositions – in fact, the boundary between “design” and “art” is completely arbitrary, even imaginary. Bazaar Conceptions certainly won’t be the first time designers have encountered doubt over their place in the fine art world—and it won’t be the last.
“Just because I work in a more modern setting, using a computer and programs as my materials instead of paintbrushes and paper, doesn’t make me any less of an artist. If you’re asking how graphic design fits into the fine art world, well, it’s simple—graphic design is everywhere,” Kim Crabtree tells me. “You are exposed to thousands of designs online, on the street, in books ... That makes a greater impact than anyone can imagine.”
To seriously suggest that design doesn’t impact our everyday lives feels willfully obtuse to me. Graphic design influences the things you buy, the movies and music you consume, the cultural events you attend. Rhaney believes that lack of recognition for graphic design comes more from a place of ignorance than of malice though.
“We’re so inundated with images that sometimes we forget that things like a poster or a magazine are really art,” she says.
Increasing visibility for designers by exhibiting their works in galleries helps combat this ignorance, but those exhibitions are rare. SCAD’s emphasis on design helps, but outside the art school bubble, design is often shunted off to the side by people outside the industry who fail to comprehend the art endemic to the process.
Though the five exhibiting artists are presenting totally different perspectives and examples of graphic design, Rhaney and Crabtree made it a point to mention how well they all worked together. When I point out that it’s refreshing to see a show comprised of all women artists, they both explain that while it wasn’t planned that way, they’re excited about it nonetheless.
The all-women show comes at the perfect time for Armstrong University as March is Women’s Empowerment month. In the midst of film screenings, lectures, luncheons and workshops focused on bringing Armstrong’s community together around the contributions of its women, Bazaar Conceptions fits right in.
Five women coming together to celebrate their efforts in commerce and art is certainly something worth seeing and commenting on, regardless of whether you view graphic design as art or not. After seeing Bazaar Conceptions, perhaps you’ll change your mind.