The saying, "Design is problem solving" is a marketing tool. More specifically, it sounds like a slogan. One that is used to attract prospective clients in a way they can understand and relate to. Artistic talent is not always seen as a valuable expense anyone wants to invest in, but it is very valuable. Your livelihood as a designer counts on your ability to sell yourself, and this slogan definitely does help. Even if it is a misconceived idea of what designing is.
Creative professionals as far back as the 1500's probably were selling themselves the same way. In this extract from a 40yr advertising professional, he talks about life as an artist centuries ago:
One of art’s functions was to reinforce the power of authority, be it the church, the monarchy or a despot. Reverence was the order of the day and an artist lived or died by their ability to acquire commissions – pleasing their patrons was essential for survival.
Consider artists working in Italy for the Roman Catholic Church. They had to deal with very similar problems to those designers and people in advertising face today: they had to sell the same product. In this case it was a belief in God and some pretty strange ideas about virginity, chastity and the infallibility of the Pope rather than banks or soap powder – they had to do this over and over again in a way that would still excite and interest viewers who had seen it and heard it all before. The church, just as a client today, understood the need to refresh a familiar theme continually. This, of course, was good news for the many artists. It meant lots of new and lucrative commissions.
-Page 30 of Hegarty on Advertising
How to be Appealing in the 20th Century
The extract above depicts artists in a way that resembles designers in this day and age. Art had nearly the same usefulness that marketing and advertising has today, but the title of “artist” has depreciated over the centuries. We can no longer sell ourselves as artists. The worldview of art since centuries ago changed from useful marketing and advertising, to only being appreciated. It has lost its connection to the average man that thinks more about his facebook status than religion. My theory is that the artists of today, “designers,” use the saying “design is problem solving,” as a way to marketed themselves to businesses in modern day times. It sounds very business orientated, does it not? Artists who sell art, do not sound as good as designers selling solutions. Art is not seen as useful, as much as it is seen as an expense that only the rich can acquire, and only for the enjoyment of owning it. Calling it design, makes it sound more useful and accessible to everyone. However, it is still art. There are countless design galleries across the web, appreciating the cleverness and beauty of design. Not just for its usefulness or function, but also for the enjoyment of seeing it.
The people who were painting art for the Roman Catholic Church back then are now the people creating Nike campaigns. Even though we have the conception that art is only “creations of beautiful expression”, in the 1500’s, it might have sounded more similar to “we create solutions to existing design problems.” Remember, art was advertising back then, so imagine the meeting Michelangelo attended before he started the Sistine Chapel. He might of said something along the lines of, “By painting on your church, you will be reaching a new demographic that hasn’t been tapped into. A 45% rise in followers is expected by the next quarter.” It’s hard to imagine it, but it's possible. I wonder what kind of slogan was used then, and how similar it must of sounded to today's?
Does anyone have evidence of what went down between artists and the people who commissioned them over the history of time? I'd like to actually know what Michelangelo was doing to market himself.