Thoughts on “Grace & Necessity” [Part 4]

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my journey through Rowan William’s Grace and Necessity! We made it!! This section (titled “God and the Artist”) held so much great content, but here I am going to focus on a few quotes that really stood out to me. Let’s get started!

There were a few quotes from this section that have added to my confusion of where I stand as a graphic designer in the world of art. When I was in high school I never would have foreseen myself pursuing a degree in art, let alone being an art major. Yet here I am four years later set to graduate as an art major!

Throughout these past few years at Fox I have jumped into a whole new world of art that I never knew before. Despite the integration of graphic and studio art, I still feel a great divide between the two worlds. Though both fields involving creating, the motivation seems to differ. 

Williams wrote, “When we are tempted to confine our vision of mental activity to the successful manipulation of defined objects and the solving of practical problems as to how we negotiate with such objects, we need to recognize that this is not all,” (141). This really goes against a big part of graphic design. Many instances in graphic design require us to simplify and create symbols that can speak to the masses. 

We have to take concepts and simplify them into symbols that can be easily recognized by many people. We need to create something that can be instantly recognized and associated with characteristics of the brand that we are trying to convey. In recognizing that each person knows things differently and has different associations with various symbols makes the job of designing a logo seem impossible. 

Logos become symbols for a company’s identity. Logos also employ the use of symbols to do this job. Guerrini writes an interesting article on the impact of symbols in logo design here ( Williams describes symbols as “a complex bundle of interrelated elements” which is different from signals that trigger reactions but have no meaning in themselves (136).

Later Williams summarizes a claim by Flannery O’Connor saying, “instead of beginning from some kind of search for a metaphor, the imagination shapes a character whose own structural integrity within the fiction produces an excess of meaning which offers a metaphorical possibility,” (143). This further demonstrates the divide between the world of fine art and graphic design. In graphic design, the work usually starts with a creative brief. The creative brief is everything. It will inform and guide all work following. Without it there would be no purpose and the design could just become fluff or meaningless. 

In Essential Graphic Design Solutions, Robin Landa describes the design brief as “a strategic plan that both the client and design firm or advertising agency agree upon, a written document outlining and strategizing a design project. […] Most important for designers and the creative team, strategy is a springboard for conceptual development,” (78). But here O’Connor is suggesting that artists must let their imagination go first and from it will naturally come metaphors. This way an artist’s own desires for a specific metaphor isn’t forced upon something that it doesn’t belong to. 

Though reflecting on this chapter has contributed to the divide between these two worlds, I am in no way trying to say one way is better than the other. Each of these realms has a different purpose and I am thankful for the opportunity for discussion and community with artists of all trades. Being able to understand one another can help us to grow in our own way and there is so much more value in that than trying to figure things out alone. 


Grace and Necessity: reflections on art and love, by Rowan Williams.

Essential Graphic Design Solutions, by Robin Landa.

Symbols and Its Impact in Logo Design, by Sebastian Guerrini.