The Confusion between Art and Design

Brain-tools versus Body-tools

by Tsion Avital (Holon Institute of Technology, Israel)

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In the past century the borders have blurred between art and design. Designers, artists, aestheticians, curators, art and design critics, historians and students all seem confused about these borders. Figurative painting was reduced to graphic design while still being called 'art'. Figurative sculpture was reduced to nonfunctional industrial design while being called 'sculpture'. This fundamental blunder resulted from total misunderstanding of the concept of "abstraction" by the founders of modern art. Comprehensive analysis shows that so-called "abstract art" is neither abstract nor art, but a very simple, even trivial, kind of design.

In this book the prehistoric, philosophical, logical, historic and religious sources of the confusion between art and design are analyzed.
A new and coherent conceptual framework is proposed, to distinguish between art and design. Nearly one hundred distinctions, contradistinctions and comparisons between art and design are presented, showing clearly that they are totally independent domains.

Philosophy of art books are written by philosophers for philosophers, not for artists and designers; therefore they are irrelevant for the latter, especially for students who normally lack the necessary conceptual training. This book is not only for theoreticians but for art and design practitioners at all levels. This is a new kind of book: an illustrated philosophical book for the art and design world, which can make philosophical knowledge accessible and useful for solving real problems for designers and artists who are mostly visual rather than conceptual thinkers. The book contains over two hundred images; thus art and design people can easily follow the arguments and reasoning presented in this book in their own language; images.

Lack of distinction between art and design harms both. Design is contaminated by the ills of modern art, while modern art cannot recover from its current stagnation whilst under the illusion that it is actually art rather than design.



1 Invitation: Can a chair be a sculpture of a chair?

1.1 On the need to do away with fake sacred cows.
1.2 Misunderstanding of abstraction by modernism is the main source of the
confusion between art and design.
1.3 Duchamp's syndrome: Camouflage, disguise and fraudulence in nature
and culture.
1.4 Which art versus which design
1.5 Can a chair be a sculpture of a chair?

2 The human tool kit: Body-tools, Brain-tools, Mind-tools

2.1 Body-tools: First order reality- Phenomenal reality.
2.2 Brain-tools: Second order reality- Symbol systems.
2.3 Mind-tools: Third level reality- Structuralism or mind in tools.

3 The roots of confusion between art and design

3.1 The confusion between object and photo.
3.2 In prehistory there was no distinction between art and design.
3.3 The confusion between art and design produced by the Greek concept
"technē" and Plato's metaphysics.
3.4 Scientists in no-man's land: Science inadvertently promotes the confusion
between art and design.
3.5 The confusion between art and design in mathematical art.
3.6 A whirlpool of confusions between art and design: Self-deceit and
eyewash by academia, museums and some parasites on art.
3.7 Tools as art?
3.8 "Painting": A linguistic trap.

4 Art versus design: A horde of contradistinctions

4.1 There is natural design but no natural art.
4.2 Art versus design: some basic distinctions.
4.3 Art versus design: symbol versus object
4.4 Art versus design: systemic versus discrete entities.
4.5 Art versus design: paradigms versus styles
4.6 Art versus virtual design.
4.7 Complementary aspects between art and design

5 If it is holy it is not art. If it is art it is not holy:
The confusion between icon, art, and design in religious art.

5.1 Art and iconoclasm are incompatible.
5.2 Art, design and iconoclasm in Judaism.
5.3 Art, design and iconoclasm in Christianity
5.4 Art, design and iconoclasm in Islam

List of illustrations



Tsion Avital is perhaps the most original and revolutionary thinker in the field of philosophy of art today. Even at the start in his Master’s thesis (1970) and his doctorate (1974) he claimed that modern art is not a new paradigm in art, but the debris of figurative art and thus is not a substitute for it. He claimed that over tens of thousands of years figurative art contained two simultaneous layers: a revealed layer which is content related and semantic, which we call figurative art, and a hidden layer which is structural, and whose principal component is the hierarchic structure of every figurative painting without exception. In order to create a new paradigm for art, he suggested turning around and creating an artistic paradigm that would be based on representation of the structural characteristics of the mind, and neglecting the semantic layer which in any case has been exhausted. In the 1970’s modern art was at its peak and so there was no chance for a new paradigm of art, just as there is no point in proposing medication to a sick person who does not realize he is sick. At the same time there was no theory in aesthetics that could clearly explain the differences between art and non-art, and so Avital was obliged to create it. After about twenty years of searching he discovered the Mindprints theory – his conjecture as to the most basic organizational structures of the mind. He has presented this theory in a number of articles, in lectures at conferences and primarily in his book – Art versus nonart: Art out of mind (Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Modernism, abstraction, Cultural anthropology, contemporary art criticism, falseness of modern art, Kantian philosophy, Aesthetics, symbol-systems, The fallacy of affirming the consequence, camouflage, disguise, fraudulence, representation, reference, self-reference, incompleteness, sign versus symbol, object versus symbol, object versus photo, hierarchy, systemic, phenomenal reality, structuralism, Plato's Metaphysics, tèchne, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Mathematical art, tools as art, systemic versus discrete, network structure, paradigm, style, complementarity between art and design, iconoclasm, Jewish art, Jewish design, Christian art, Islamic art, image as substitute for object, Monet, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich, Pollock, Rembrandt, Soulages, Rodin, Caro, Michelangelo, Philippe Starck, Stella, Duchamp, Armand, Magritte, Roberto Sambonet, Anish Kapoor, Oldenburg, Merle, Leonardo da Vinci, van Baburen, van Meergeren, Tintoretto, Vermeer, Holbein, Munch, prehistory, prehistoric tools, prehistoric art, prehistoric design, prehistoric figurines, levels of reality, inclusion relations, exclusion relations, connectivity, disconnectivity, symmetry, asymmetry, randomness, connectors, containers, processors, dissectors, inner space, grouping, class, classification, extension of hand, extension of skin, extension of inner space, fashion, architecture, industrial design, graphic design, visual communication, code and fashion, hand tools, body tools, brain tools, mind tools, open endedness, closed endedness, recursion, recurrence, singularity, mutual exclusiveness, determinism, indeterminism, natural design, animal art, embedding , self-embedding, metaphor, holon, holonomic, serial, serial order, virtual design, terra-cotta army at Xian, Jizo statues, tiling

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

The Confusion between Art and Design

Book Subtitle

Brain-tools versus Body-tools





Number of pages


Physical size

251mm x 178mm


216 B&W

Publication date

January 2020