The Russian Avant-Garde

February 19, 2009

I have already written about the Cubist and Futurist influences to graphic design. Well, you can argue about the former but when I get into modernist French design I think there is a influence of cubism and a general strong connection to the fine arts. Futurism seems to have had a profound  influence on Dada and Constructivist designs and that leads to the De Stijl movement to the Bauhaus school (which has had the most profound and influence on modern design, art and on how design and art was/is taught).

It seems as though Constructivists of Russia mingled with the De Stijl artists and designers (Lissitzky and Van Doesburg). In addition, eventually, many Constructivist and De Stijl artists and designers went on the teach or had some connection to the Bauhaus in Germany (Mondrian and Lissitzky) and vice versa (Maholy-Nagy, Schwitters, Van Doesburg). Really, it seems all these movements are somewhat interconnected and stylistically it does seem that way. To me it makes sense.

So what is Constructivism? This is a primarily an art movement that was based in Russia in the early 20th century. It had a considerable link to the Russian Communist Revolution. They merged the arts with modern technological rationalism for political and ideological uses. Basically, it was a form of Soviet-era Russian propaganda. 

The aesthetics of Constructivism is similar to the geometric abstract Suprematist paintings of Kasimir Malevich. Constructivism was also a departure from Russian Futurism that sought to break and destroy traditions (similar to Italian Futurism).

 

Malevich's Black Square of White Painting

Malevich's Black Square of White Painting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malevich's Aeroplane Flying

Malevich's Aeroplane Flying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know of three different kinds of propaganda machines the Soviets used. The first being in the form of graphic patriotic street bulletins known as the Rosta Windows that Lenin launched in 1918.

 

Example of a Rosta Window by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Example of a Rosta Window by Vladimir Mayakovsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next was the works from Constructivist artists that used geometric abstraction along with dynamic angles and view points, photomontage, cinema, abstract uses of light and contrast. The best example of this is “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” by El Lissitzky in 1920.

 

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally there was Social Realism that became the dominant form of propaganda during the regime of Stalin up until the fall of the USSR. This form of work can still be seen today and is most notibly used in China. Scroll down to another blog of mine that shows some examples of Social Realism. It was a return to a more “conservative” representational image that the modernists rebelled against. 

A good early example of Soviet Social Realism is work of Gustav Klutsis’s work that used photomontage but you can still see the modernist geometric simplifications that the constructivists used. 

 

Klutsis Poster

Klutsis Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you notice, the Constructivists works are probably the most “difficult” out of the propaganda bunch. Here are some more examples of works of the Constructivist movement. I do want to make note that it seems as time went on the constructivists went from strict geometric forms and abstration to using photo and photomontage in conjunction with the abstract forms. I am thinking this had to do with political regime changes. Eventually abstraction was dropped all together for the social realism that came eventually.

 

Rodchenko Poster/Flier

Rodchenko Poster/Flier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Lissitzky "installation" work

El Lissitzky "installation" work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poster for the movie, The Man with the Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov, 1929

Poster for the movie, The Man with the Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov, 1929

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rodchenko Photograph

Rodchenko Photograph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lissitzky and Mayakovsky Design

Lissitzky and Mayakovsky Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tatlin's model of Monument to the Third International (1919-20)(note: never built)

Tatlin's model of Monument to the Third International (1919-20)(note: never built)

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De Stijl (The Style)

February 13, 2009

I do apollagize about the few post recently to the blog. I have been taking a class on the program InDesign, starting on some new work and planning my future amongst other things. So I have been rather busy in the real world.

Regarding a previous post, I have been doing some more reading on the subject of graphic design, another history book (Graphic Design: A History, Alain Weill) that says that Cubism wasn’t really a big influence to graphic design. It basically states that the text and the use of montage was basically coincidence and there was no direct influence. So I guess it just depends on who you talk to and what you read. Decide for yourself.

I think I wrote that I would go into Surrealism next but I have changed my mind. I want to write about De Stijl instead.

I think the work of the De Stijl movement (along with Constructivism) is the starting point of the progression of modern graphic design’s rise to dominate the look and feel of corporate advertising and design.

I do find it interesting that the rise of Modernism was born our of revolution and the avant-garde and then grew up and became the language of corporations and authority. 

Anyway, why do I think De Stijl is so important?

First of all, what is De Stijl? Basically De Stijl was born in the Netherlands between 1915-17 and lasted till maybe the 1930s. Russian Constructivism grew simultaneously and there are some similarities and some overlap of artists and designers that are part of each movement. De Stijl sought to create a universal vision through abstraction and rationalism that was pure and austere. They sought a spiritual purity through precise organization and geometric abstraction. This was in a way to protest war, individualism, and nationalism.

De Stijl was a movement that would span though architecture, design, art. It’s principles could be applied to anything. De Stijl work was geometric and avoided the use of curves. It used simple forms and color was pure in its use. It had a grid-like structure. It was formal in its use of dynamic asymmetric balance, and interactions of simple forms (i.e. shapes) and space.

In the way of graphic design and typography, there was a strict adhesion to san serif type and the square was the basic element used for page layout. This use of the grid and geometric frame work and the use of san serif type would dominate graphic design for decades. It basically still dominates conservative corporate and government/public design. Helvetica was not De Stijl but it is a san serif font and is/was seen as the fruition of the perfect san serif font and dominates design that is meant to be authoritative. See the documentary Helvetica. 

De Stijl aesthetic can be seen in the publication De Stijl that was produced by the architect Theo Van Doesburg and the man who designed the typography, Vilmos Huszar.

 

De Stijl Magazine Cover

De Stijl Magazine Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hendrik T. Wijdweld founded the magazine called Wendingen in 1918. He chose a strictly square format and used san serif type. It was a little more eclectic in its design. It seemed to have an Asian influence in the use of Chinese paper and it was bound in a Japanese style binding. Note the typeface used is similar to the one used in the De Stijl publication. There is a use of color but it is minimal and pure in its hue. 

 

Wendingen Cover featuring Diego Rivera

Wendingen Cover featuring Diego Rivera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a magazine called The Next Call. It was created by Hendrik N Werkman. It was even more eclectic than Wendingen was was maybe more experimental and radical. However, I think you can see the geometric use of the format, pure and minimal color, a dynamic asymmetrical balance. 

 

The Next Call

The Next Call

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other works attributed to the De Stijl movement:

 

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gerrit Rietveld's Schroder House

Gerrit Rietveld's Schroder House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Schroder house is considered to be the pinnacle of De Stijl architecture.

 

Theo Van Doesburg Diagram

Theo Van Doesburg Diagram 1923

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above is an isometric diagram of a building made up of “floating” geometric frames. These ideas were never realized in form and the closest thing really is Rietveld’s Schroder House in Utrecht. It does look like a 3-d Mondrian painting with its use of angular forms and primary colors. These drawings seem to be influential to constructivist architecture, the Bauhaus and eventually the International Style of architecture.


Dada and It’s Influence

January 30, 2009

This is part two of my “history” series. It has been a little while since I last post to my blog. The snow and winter weather has been a distraction. Even though a lot of time has been spent inside, I have decided to work on some art instead of writing. Plus I have been doing some sledding and made a snowman.Well, now I am back…with a sore tailbone from sledding. Ouch, I am getting old.

So part two will be on Dada and it’s sub-movements and how they influenced visual communications/graphic design.

Dada started as a literary movement when Hugo Ball opened the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland around 1917. A huge member of this group, in addition to Hugo Ball, was Tristan Tzara, a poet. He published poetry and edited a publication called DADA. 

Example of Tristan Tzara's work

Example of Tristan Tzara's work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These literary figures were interested in sound, nonsense,  and chance poetry. This did spill out into the visual art field in the form of automatic drawing and the allowance of chance and the absurd to infiltrate too.

The Dada movement claimed to be “anti-art” and had a strong destructive and negative element. It was a rejection of tradition and the seeking of complete freedom from past traditions. This was familiar territory of the Futurists and I am sure they did have some influence. 

Also, like the Cubists, they had an interest in letter forms as concrete visual shapes. Letters were not just phonetic symbols.

The art of photo-montage was said to originate from this same movement. The most famous artist to use this was Hannah Hoch. She took found elements from printed sources and patched them together in rather random and/or absurd ways.

Example of Hannah Hoch's work

Example of Hannah Hoch's work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Schwitters…not technically part of the Dada Movement.

They rejected him.

However, he did have great influence on 20th century typography. However, in the art world he is most known for his collage compositions created from printed ephemera , rubbish and other found materials. In all of his work, he combined Dada’s nonsense and chance with strong use design elements and principles. I suppose he was too structured for the Dadaists then. I suppose this is why they rejected him.

From 1923-32 he published a periodical called Merz. Typography and design were major subjects of the publication. In addition, he worked with El Lissitzky, a Russian Constructivist, and he worked with Theo Van Doesburg, a Dutch De Stijl artist who was also famous for his architectural and design/typographic work. 

Schwittters also ran a graphic design studio and the city of Hanover, Germany employed him as a typography consultant for years.

A Kurt Schwitters collage

A Kurt Schwitters collage

Example of Schwitter's work for Merz

Example of Schwitter's work for Merz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sub-movement of Dada were the Berlin Dadaists. Two of their most famous members were John Heartfield and George Grosz. They sought to raise public consciousness and promote social change through visual communications.

Grosz and Heartfield Design

Grosz and Heartfield Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both were highly critical of Germany’s politics and society. Heartfield used the art of photo-montage as a propaganda weapon and innovated the way work was prepared for offset printing. He hated Hitler and Nazi Germany…so much he changed his name from Helmut Herzfelde as a protest against German militarism. 

"Adolf, The Superman" by Heartfield

"Adolf, The Superman" by Heartfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Grosz, mainly known as a visual artist who is known for his paintings and drawings. He attacked a “decadent and degenerate” society through satire and characature. He did work for several publications such as, Der Blutige Ernst. 

Grosz drawing

Grosz drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, Dada dissolved into rival factions in 1921-22. One faction led by Andre Breton lead to the founding of Surrealism.

Surrealism will be next. I also checked out a book about woman designers so you will probably see some stuff on that soon. As a woman, I am interested in what woman have contributed to design since it seems like, historically, that men have dominated the field.


Obama and Art

January 20, 2009

Is this the year for Obama art? It seems to be. I am only going to give two examples of what I have seen but I have seen many. It seems to be something that is giving artists attention and sales because of Obama’s popularity and people wanting something to commemorate the history that is being made today. 

First is Shepard Fairey’s poster that circulated the streets and then was adopted by Obama supporters and eventually Obama’s campaign. In a sense, it has made him maybe the most recognized street artist since Banksy. However, Fairey is a graphic designer and does artwork too. The work does take from propaganda and posters from the early 20th century Europe and even more specifically Chinese propaganda posters. He sort of mixes the high contrast images used by the Constructivists, John Heartfield’s anti-nazi posters, and even Ludwig Holwein’s Nazi-German propaganda posters, and the social realism of the Chinese Posters.

 

Chinese Poster

Chinese Poster

Soviet Propaganda Poster

Soviet Propaganda Poster

Heartfield's Poster Attacking Press, 1930

Heartfield's Poster Attacking Press, 1930

 

Ludwig Holwein's "Und Du?" german army recruiting poster, early 1940s

Ludwig Holwein's "Und Du?" german army recruiting poster, early 1940s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shepard1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shepard-fairey-say-yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shepard-fairey_barack-hopethumbnail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shepard fairey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an article about a SIUE graduate student who made an Obama portrait out of coins. He had his work featured in Time and then sold the work on Ebay for nearly 1400 dollars.


Modernism and Graphic Design

January 20, 2009

From what I know, graphic design has been around since writing has been around. There has always been some kind of organization of image and text. For the most part, historically, text has been organized in a horizontal or vertical manner. 

However, the term “graphic design” has not been around since the invention of writing. It has only been around since 1922….less than a century. So it is a fairly new form. This was something I didn’t know. I just it assumed it had been around since the beginning of civilization.

Graphic design is really a product of Modernism. According to A History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs, it was coined in 1922 by William Addison Dwiggins, a book designer, in 1922. He basically used the term to describe his activities. A graphic designer is someone who brings structural order and visual form to printed communications. 

Of course, today it is not just limited to print. Basically where ever one sees text and image, someone or some people have organized the visuals. The internet, television, film, computer graphics, clothing, and of course printed matter can be included in the definition of graphic design.

Graphic design as a product of modernism

 Visually, if you look at visual communication before 1900 and after 1900, there will be a noticeable difference. Modern graphic design’s roots can be found in Modern Art. 

In a sense, Modernism was a reductive movement. Form was simplified as a way to break from pictorial representation. 

Why this break? The beginning of the 20th century was fraught with radical political, social, cultural and economic changes. It was a revolutionary time. It was a time of radical scientific and technological advances. Life was being forever changed by the invention of the automobie, airplane, motion pictures, radio, high tech weapons (tanks, machine guns, chemical and biological warfare). WW1 shook Europe off of its foundations. New ways of thinking were needed. Marxist theory was the basis of some of there political, social and economic changes. There was a rise of radical political revolutions that spawned the rise of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Communist Russia. The visual artist felt that the traditions of the past did not represent the time they were living in. Pictorial representation could not capture the changes of the times. Something new was needed. This may be too simplistic but it will do for now.

Movements in early 20th century modernism: Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, De Stijl, Suprematism and Constructivism. 

Expressionism and Fauvism didn’t have much influence on graphic design. I suppose it was considered too primal or subjective. The other movements do seem to have some kind of analytical structure even if some of it looked crude or primitive. There was some kind of intellectual basis….a method to the madness.

Cubism + Futurism = modern graphic design

Influence of cubism, or maybe specifically Synthetic Cubism, seems to come from a structural design of the picture plane. The grid. There is also the use of reducing pictorial space and figures to hard-edged geometric forms.

Juan Gris seemed to use the apparatus as a way to find a medium between art based on perception and art based on the relationships between geometric planes. 

 

Gris's "Portrait of Picasso", 1912

Gris's "Portrait of Picasso", 1912

 

 

Fernand Leger’s paintings reduced his subject matter to compositions of made up of colorful shapes. He also fragments his subjects and uses letterforms to form stylistic representations of his visual experience. 

 

Leger's "The City", 1919

Leger's "The City", 1919

 

 

The influence of Futurism (or more specifically Futurist poetry): it’s influence seems to be in how type is used. If you don’t know much about Futurism, it begins with Filippo Marinetti’s, the Manifesto of Futurism that was published in 1909. Marinetti was an Italian poet. Futurism was established as a revolutionary movement in which the arts voiced their opposition against traditional institutions that shaped European culture. The Futurists had an enthusiasm for war, machines, speed and modern life. They detested museums, libraries, moralism and feminism.  The art that came out of this movement focused on speed, energy and dynamic/violent movements. The poets and writers of this movement rejected traditional grammar and syntax. Harmony was not important. Words and text were used freely AS description….not as a way to describe. Type can be in itself an expressive visual form. 

 

Filippo Marinetti, "Montage + Vallate + Strade x Joffre", 1915

Filippo Marinetti, "Montage + Vallate + Strade x Joffre", 1915

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was just the beginning and these two movements really start to influence the successive movements such as Dada and Surrealism. Then huge noticable changes seem to infiltrate into graphic communications, leading to modern graphic design.

More to come.


Research to Feed Your Visual Mind

January 16, 2009

I like to say, to find inspiration, one should take a look around. What is surrounding you? In that space, what is interesting? Then take notes, pictures, or do sketches.

Another thing to do is to do research. Yes, look at books, magazines, the internet, newspapers, for that matter – any printed media, and TV. I suppose you could add other sources. 

In my goal to learn more about graphic design, I am doing some research. Who and what is behind the images we see today. Who created the images that influenced the images we see today. How their work help me? How do I find work to emulate and process to feed my creativity?

1. Get books. Go to the library and find books on graphic design. Browse and check ones out that seems to have some interesting content. Take down the names of the designers that you like and ones that seem to have a huge importance. 

2. Research the designers that you took notes of. Are their books out there one them? Do an internet search. Find images. Heck scan or download images and make a library. 

3. Ask questions. What do you like about a design? What about their style makes them stand out? Who and what are their influences? 

4. Find books and magazines that you own and pick out the covers and/or layouts you like. Who did them?  Repeat 2 and 3. 

5. Don’t just look at the visual imagery. Read. In a sense graphic design goes back to the first examples of written language. The term itself was not invented until 1922. However, there has always been some type of organization to images and words. What are some types of organizations used in the past? Are they culturally specific? How have conventions changed? Where where their radical shifts? It may seem banal to learn about the history of the alphabet and the evolution of letters, but the information can be useful. If you like typography it has to be useful. 

6. Be critical. What kind of design conventions don’t you like? Are there designers out there that create work you do not like? Ask  yourself why? Take down names and research them in the same way you researched the ones you do like. 

So this is what I am currently trying to do. It is easy and probably more fun to research what you like. However, find out about what you do not like. Find sources (such as magazines you have no interest in) and look through them and process the information. There is so much out there. In a way you are learning about yourself and this will influence and feed your creativity.


Thrift Store Modernism

January 8, 2009

Yesterday my boyfriend and I were out and we went to the Salvation Army in Granite City. We like to go through their vinyl records. Most of the time we find nothing really good…most of the time it is horrid.  Most of the time we are looking for music we like for really cheap for our vinyl collections. He found an English Beat Album and some live Duran Duran LP complete with a tour guide. I however was just seeing if there were any interesting record covers.

I found three things I liked. 2/3 actually had records inside. Yes I paid for one that did not have a record in it. Like I said, I was buying the record covers really. I noticed two of the three were put out by Command Records. I like their minimalist/modern abstract covers. They came about in the late 1950s and made albums specifically for audiophiles. Here is a link for for info on Command Records.

Here are some examples of cover art.

The Corporation

The Corporation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dixie Rebels

The Dixie Rebels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabulous

Fabulous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persuasive Percussion

The one above is the one I have. I also have one called Electrodynamics.

I thought this was a nice little surprise; to find a piece of modernism at the thrift store.

Persuasive Percussion