In the 1930s, a group of critical theorists known as the Frankfurt School grappled with the cultural implications of technological advances in film, radio, and television. The thinkers and writers were split over the virtues of traditional arts –– classical music, painting, literature –– versus more easily available, “lowbrow” mediums such as jazz, movies, and pop songs.


Since then, advances in information technology have further dramatically altered how we experience culture. An Emarketer study last year found that the average person spends more than 12 hours a day engaging with major media. Given this constant exposure to print, video, social media, and other digital channels, there’s perhaps no more widely distributed creative medium than graphic design.



Last week, TCU’s Moudy Gallery mounted the Department of Graphic Design’s annual juried student exhibition, Kick A** and Take Names. The school boasts an impressive reputation for cultivating the next generation of influencers and designers. Earlier this year, Graphis Publications, a prestigious international outlet, presented the students with 67 awards at its New Talent Annual competition.


The show features a wide array of works, including web and app design, infographics, logos, posters, photography, promotional packaging, and illustration. And although some pieces are easily identifiable as marketing devices, many of the items wouldn’t seem out of place at a fine art gallery.


Lewis Glaser, chair of TCU’s graphic design department, acknowledges there are many similarities between visual art and design.


“The two are closely related,” he said. “Graphic design evolved as a career track in the 1940s and came out of visual art’s ability to manipulate and connect.”


Both design and visual art rely on many of the same formal properties –– color, line, shape, value, and composition. However, unlike fine art, which is a form of personal expression, Glaser believes that successful design should connect with the audience to convey a specific message that a client needs to promote. An understanding of how the world works, through anthropology, economics, and other social sciences, is as essential as understanding visual relationships to communicate at scale.


I posed the question about the difference between art and design to conceptual artist and graphic designer William Sarradet, who a hosted a media criticism workshop for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s Teen Artist Project last month.


“It can be a tough distinction, Sarradet said. “In some ways, art is design is art. You have to decide how you define them yourself as you look at them or experience them.”


Some may view graphic design as a lower art, if art at all, but graphic design, embedded into all of our daily conveniences, is clearly an expression of how we live now. And Sarradet thinks that we should probably take popular media as seriously as its primacy in our lives would imply. Kick A** and Take Names succeeds in highlighting the emerging talent of TCU’s graphic design students but, maybe more importantly, by shifting design from the context in which we’re accustomed to seeing it. The show separates the visual rhetoric of design from its usefulness, freeing us to look at it a little bit more carefully.


Kick A** and Take Names

Thru today/Fri at the Moudy Gallery at TCU, 2800 S University Dr, FW. Free. 817-257-2588.