Does Graphic Design Count as Fine Art?

Graphic design is a form of visual art that is designed to be functional in its purpose. It is intended to convey a specific message to a target audience through design elements like typography, colors, symbols, and so on. Fine arts is all about self expression and aesthetic beauty. Its purpose is purely for visual enjoyment and is accessible to anyone.

Typically graphic design does not count as fine art. Though there is an underlying structure between the two that are one in the same, graphic design is considered “low art” while fine art is considered “high art”.

Though graphic art does not fall under the umbrella of fine art there are notable similarities, as well as differences that place them both under the umbrella of visual art. While distinctions between art styles are important to know, the parallels are just as important to understand.

What is the Difference Between Graphic Design and Fine Art?

Art in general is subjective in terms of its desirability. Not everyone will agree with a pieces’ popularity or anonymity. Art defers to the viewer’s personal tastes and emotional connectivity. However, it does take a certain skill and structure to practice art. There is no question when it comes to graphic design and fine art that they both fall under the category of art and more specifically visual art, but that may be where the similarities end.

What makes graphic design and fine art different from each other are found in a few notable factors:

  1. Client Versus Artist
  2. Functionality Versus Existence
  3. Data Versus Intuition

Looking into each one of these elements will give you a greater understanding of why graphic design is not a subcategory of fine art.

1. Client Versus Artist

One of the primary differentiating characteristics of graphic art versus fine art is for whom the art is created. Graphic art is a profession in which a designer is hired to communicate a very specific message to whomever it is intended for. This typically means that there are a particular set of requirements handed down to the designer by a client. Therefore, the client is essentially in control of the finished product.

Fine art is entirely in the hands of the artist and the work, even if commissioned, is left to their unique style and interpretation. This type of art is more about expression and therefore requires a level of freedom to the work that does not require the artist to defer to the particularities of a client.

2. Functionality Versus Existence

The beauty of fine art is that it does not need to have a specific purpose or message, it can simply exist. The artist may have had intention in what they were wanting to communicate through the work, but the work is valid even if that does not come across to the viewer. Fine art allows for the viewer to have their own unique experience with the piece and draw their own conclusions.

Graphic art was created primarily with the purpose of communication. It is functional in nature and that function is based on what the client is trying to convey to their target audience. Graphic design is used a great deal in commercial industries and so it markets or advertises a message. It could be enticing you to pick up a book because of the design of the cover or it could help you to remember the name of a coffee shop because of the unique typography the designer chose. The point is simply aesthetics, it’s to sell the book or the coffee.

3. Data Versus Intuition

The actual process of graphic design work is vastly different from fine art. Where fine art is about the artist’s style, instincts and intuition, graphic design is a sort of mathematical process that relies on data. Which means that the graphic design work is more rational, based on facts versus perceptual, which is based on the senses of the viewer.

Due to fine art being perceptual, it tends to arouse certain thoughts and emotions in its viewer. While graphic design does provoke it’s own response from an audience it is primarily concerned with solving the problem associated with those thoughts and emotions. It’s not simply about feeling or thinking, it’s about  a resolution of an issue.

To give you an example, you don’t have a book to read, you want one but you don’t know which one to choose, that is the problem. A designer creates an intriguing and beautiful book cover that captures your special attention. While the cover does evoke certain feelings, those feelings are not the primary purpose of the work. The purpose is to get you to buy the book which in turn solves your problem.

Where do Graphics Design and Fine Art Intersect?

As in with any visual art, graphic design and fine art share the same fundamental principles. This includes balance, shape, color, contrast, line, and so on.

Graphic designers and artists intersect at education. They both study the same artistic methods like painting, sculpting, drawing and so on in order to develop their individual abilities. This is why individuals with a fine arts degree are able to branch out into graphic design as a possible career path.

As stated earlier, they are both meant to be displayed and viewed by an audience of sorts and they both evoke certain feelings and thoughts in the viewer regardless of purpose. There can even be some graphic design elements incorporated in fine art. We certainly know that fine art influences graphic design.


Regardless of whether you are into fine art or graphic design there is a close enough relation that knowledge of both would benefit any designer or artist. If nothing more than to extend your abilities and give more room for the work to expand beyond the borders of its category.

Not everyone who has an interest in graphic design has the opportunity to earn a degree in fine arts or similar major. Thankfully there are resources available on the internet and sites like that allow you to start the journey of learning graphic design.