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OUGD401: Context of Practice 1 - ESSAY

Focusing on specific examples, describe the way that Modernist art & design was a response to the forces of modernity?
Modernity and Modernism is the concept of modern, a period of time from 19th century which using industrialization, which is a form of economic change, and Urbanisation, the physical growth of society, to forge a utopian lifestyle for the masses. Transportation and communication were becoming much more vast, with the invention of the synthetic fiber in 1883, the steam turbine in 1884, the Kodak camera the diesel engine, and the Ford Automobile, global innovations, creating new work and establishing new methods of communication, making the world becoming a global village, a shrinking world. This lead to new ideas, a new way of life, such as social morality, truth within design, removing the illusion, and the embracement of new technologies, which in turn progressed to the idea of form following function, something being made for a purpose, to achieve its full potential, before being designed to look aesthetically pleasing.
America, in the 1880s began to adopt this style, and develop their own national identity, within the culture of modernism. The years between 1880 and 1930 were characterised by Robert Hughes, art critic, as the mechanical paradise. Astounded by the Industrial revolution in England, which the iconic Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, dubbed Cathedral of the Machine, was born from, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was unveiled at the world fair in 1889, forty years after crystal palace, designed by engineer Gustav Eiffel, The Structure represented the triumph of the modern present over the traditional past. (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, page 8) These structures initiated new directions. As American began reliant on the prevalent Victorian style from Europe and Britain, and the technology progressed, the need for new design and the production of visuals became apparent. The world of art and design began to adopt the concept of modernism, and develop their own responses to the force of modernity.
The response Modernism became much more apparent within design after 1900, abandoning traditional Victorian complexity and embellishment, bring forth a new idealisation of simplicity, putting the concept of form following function into effect. Germany is a good example of a country that ends their ties with traditional values and society, which previously existed: The German Expressionist Movement; which confronted life head on, directly addressing the negativity within society and its values. They did this by creating bizarre painting, which were often overly vibrant, using high-key colours, which were extremely unnatural, in a very crude style, as you can see in the example to the right, which is a poster by Fritz Beryl, for the Die Brüke exhibition. The group of expressionists called themselves Die Brücke, which translates to The Bridge, metaphorically, and physically bridging the gap between the traditional styles to the modern. The turmoil and the disoraganisation, which the German Expressionist Movement presented lead to a need for reform and reorganisation, a new world, which would be based upon purer principles, from which came Modernism.
Similar instances were happening in other European countries also. Countries like Germany and Austria underwent huge social changes after the First World War; however, countries that had less of a negative social tradition prior to World War 1 applied the modernist movement to their societies, countries such as Switzerland, Holland and Scandinavia. This movement was regarded as the avant-garde, which provided a base, like Die Brücke did for Germany, for the new approach; modernism.
The image to the right (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, Page 18) is an example of the new modernist style. This piece particularly was created to support fascism in Italy before World War II. Mino Somenzi produced it in 1938. The approach can be seen as complex but powerful. This effect is achieved ‘through the complex directional juxtapositions of small text type, bold headline types and colour. This style was completely new; nothing similar to this had even been attempted before, in comparison to the traditional values. This piece also features a creative use of type also known as typography, which was never really attempted before - it was quite experimental. However, in this image, the message is very obvious, the part of the image which the artist intended you to see and read is obvious, there are no real distractions for the eye in this image, the newspaper-format type in the background is nearly a background, for which the colourful type sits on.  This displays traits of the modernist style, the form of the this article follows the function, there are no decorative images on here, it’s pure type, pure text, straight to the point.
An example of a designer who responded to the modernist movement was Jan Tschichold, who specialised in type, published a book in 1928, The New Typography, which not only defined the principles of how to use type in a modern style, but also used photographs rather than illustrations as it’s medium to communicate visually. It also used san-serif typefaces.  To the right (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, Page 23) is an insert from Tschischold’s Typographische Mitteilugen, titled ‘Elementare Typographie’. You can clearly see that the design of the insert is very simple, clean; traits of the modernist style. The red used is extremely bold and striking, amongst the beige-grey background, in a very similar fashion to the image above, which used green and orange over the top of the a grey-scale image. Within this insert, Tschishold presented his typographic principles, which were massively different from the past. He established the concept of using only a single typeface, rather than multiple for any purpose. Limiting the amount of fonts is not only more atheistically pleasing, but also following the idea of form following function. Allowing whoever was to view the piece to be able to get the message clearly and easily, as intended, before looking ‘beautiful’, which is a direct response to modernism.
Kurk Schwitters and Tschichold also formed a group of designers, who called themselves Reing neue Werbegestaler. In response to modernism, the members of the group, all from Germany or Holland, specialised in Typography and Graphic Design; to which they all believed could be revolutionized with a new approach. They together, became experts, developing ‘cultural meaning and aesthetic character’ (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, page 26) They also dubbed Futura as the best font for every purpose, in response to modernism, where form follows function, futura’s san serif structure, with clean edges, and it’s ease of readability, designed by Paul Renner, in 1927, commercially released in 1936, was received by many as ‘a major new direction for the printed page’ (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, page 26) However, it was seen a communistic by the Nazis.
America also responded to the forces of modernity, for example, within Graphic Design, following the 1900s Millions had been spent in product promotion, therefor the opportunity for design was substantial. Books and letterpress became more popular, and with the influence of modernity from Europe, America responded with similar results. Previously, their advertising was mainly traditional, copy heavy, due to the dominance of the typewriter. Following the German modernist explosion in 1927, the Americans, due to their flexibility, adopted Futura and similar fonts, of a san-serif nature. R. Roger Remmington supports this, by saying, “[Futura and Kabel] featured the considerable reproportioning of letters instead of relying on uniform widths.” (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960) Vanity Fair, 1930 adopted Futura, which was an extremely popular magazine, propelling futura into the public eye. This led competing typefaces to be created alongside Futura, for example, American Type Founders, a company who created the metal typefaces for production, created the competing Bernhard Gothic, in 1929, which was heavily influenced by the German modernist style. The image to the right displays Bernhard Gothic, you can see, in relation to the Futura typeface example above to the two are fairly similar. The main similarity is they are either San Serif, also called Gothic fonts, these are unlike traditional fonts, which were generally Roman fonts, including serifs. Whilst both styles of typeface, Roman and Gothic, are extremely clear and easy to read, the San Serif font responds more to the modernist style, the letter form has no decorative features, no serifs, which were originally used when carving in stone, and were unavoidable, however, since then, serifs have become purely decorative, and traditional, removing them produces a very stripped down font, where the form follows the function, communicating the letterforms in the most legible and readable way possible, before considering any decorative aspects.
Book Design, in America, also responded to modernism, the key figure in the revolution of book design in the early 1900s was William Addison Dwiggins, who was a typographer, an advocate of the new modernist style and one of the first to use the term; Graphic Design. Which is conformed by Remmington: “[Dwiggings] coined the term ‘graphic design’ in 1922 [it gained meaning] as modernism itself was popularised” (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, page 41) We can see in the image to the right, that Dwiggings had a very distinct minimalist style, with a certain modern charm to it, using shapes and lines to create an image, rather than in the traditional fashion, which would be using an intricate drawing or almost-photo-realistic painting. Which, once again reflects the concept of form following function, the simple drawing, which fits the text, depicting a man and a woman under an umbrella, whilst a man run pasts, trying to get out of the rain. If this can be communicated with a few shapes and lines, there’s no need for a carefully drawn painting, as that would be seen as a decorative aspect, the form, not the function. He also designed another book, which he authored himself, titled Layout in Advertising, 1929. Towards the end of the book, he relates to the definition of modernism, how it’s a state of mind, how it’s a natural utopian society, going against the traditional ways, Dwiggings writes “Modernism is not a system of design- it is a state of mind. It is a natural and wholesome reaction against an overdose of traditionalism” (Layout In Advertising, page 193) This quote further extends the response to modernity, abandoning traditionalism, Dwiggings describes it, almost an overdose, like it was forced upon you like foul tasting medicine, and modernism and modernity being the fresh air, the natural clean alternative, the savior from the past, and all it’s application within the world of art.
Another example of a book designer, who modified his approach to his practice in response to the forces of modernity, would be S.A. Jacobs, who said these immense words of wisdom: “Nobody has a monopoly on ideas, especially borrowed ones. And there is nothing original about the ideas borrowed fro the ancient – ideas borrowed, put though modern washing machines, ironed by new methods and sold as contemporary products” (Books for Our Time, Page 31) This was Jacobs expressing his opinion on the re-creation of something old, and how he would rather create something new, and original. Breaking out of the traditional ways, into the new modernist format. You can see an example of one of Jacob’s book designer, for Carl Heinrich’s Orphan of Eternity, 1929, to the right. In this image is extremely minimal, on the page itself it contains nothing but text, information, placed in an orderly format, reserving ideas of guides and grids, which were proposed by the modernists in Europe, which create an orderly neat format, where everything lines up perfectly, in a visually pleasing manner. There are also no images in this piece, not even a simple line or shape illustration, like Dwiggings would do, this contains the core information, nothing more, nothing less, the title, author and any other information relating to the publication of the book – the form follows the function.
Skipping forward to the 1930s, American Graphic Design has been established, however, in response to modernity, they want to make their designs as efficient and modernistic as possible, however, there were no text books on Graphic Design, and most of the skills American Graphic Designers had, at this stage, were self taught. They would wait for magazines from Europe as their textbooks, for their design inspiration, to learn more, and respond to the forces of modernity. This is also talked about, supporting this, by Remmington: “Designers such as Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Lester Beall… could hardly wait from month to month to receive the latest issue of the magazine in the mailbox or at the library.” (American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, Page 75) The magazines would feature innovate designs, from German designers such a Herbert Bayer and Lucien Bernhard or OHW Hadank. Magazines also came from the Swiss and the French, who used photography, what’s interesting about the use of photography is that it’s a fair recent medium within publishing, originally, in almost all publishing and presses, intricate paintings, drawings and renderings were used, the traditional side to art, which is very pre-modernity. They forces of modernity edged designers in the direction of minimalistic drawings, as touched on above, but the use of photographs is also considered as modernist, as photographs capture something exactly as it is seen. Rather than using a painting, which not only isn’t one hundred percent realistic, but can also be expressionistic, capturing a mood, an emotion, and a forged idea that is depicted. This is not the modernist way, a photograph represents what is, showing whoever was to see it something, a function, rather than being decorative, or attractive.
The concept of form following function widely spread across Europe and America, to create a new utopian wave of clean cut, informative, displaying a purpose as it’s primary intention, before or without, taking into account the form, the decoration of the product or piece. I think that this concept embedded itself deeply into the principles of design, rewriting the rules, and setting up a new canvas for future design work, some of which is featured today. For example, the works of Peach Beach ‘You don’t need Vehicles to more something’ which is a fantastic collection of illustrations using lines and shapes to depict vehicles, in a clear informative manner, which would be perfect to be used in way-finding. Pieces like these, within Graphic Design would not exist without the revolution, created as a response to modernity, in the early 1900s.  We can also see how Graphic Design changed in response to modernity in the earth C20th. How it created an escape for the traditional mess of over-thought, over complex way of thinking, making something based on decorative purposes, rather than something which completes it’s necessary task, before considering or including decorative purposes, because of this, we began to see almost minimalist works produced by Graphic Designers, including no traditional aspects such as paintings or intricate drawings, which were old fashioned and had a very sluggish painful feeling to them, as they were not intended for advertising, they were usually art commissioned for a purpose, but instead they begun including line and shape drawings, which now are usually dubbed Vector illustration, due to Adobe’s popular Adobe Illustrator, or it would include no illustrations at all, and only neatly arranged text, using the grid system, which is still relied on as a fundamental skill of the industry today. Revolutionising and creating a system to which we can relate to today, that is efficient, simple, and leaves an atheistic charm without including any actual elements which would be purely atheistic, Modernism and Modernity forced designers to respond to it, and create amazing works, for the new, amazing, utopian society – long live modernism.

Unknown, (2009) Naïve Modernism and Folklore in Contemporary Graphic Design, 4th Edition, Berlin: Gestalten.
Remmington, Rodger R. (2003) American Modernism Graphic Design 1920 to 1960, London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd
Brüke Museum. (Unknown) Fritz Bleyl [Online] (Updated: Unknown) Available at: [Accessed 15 January 2013].
Dwiggins William A. (1928) Layout In Advertising, New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers.
Marshall, Lee (1951) Books for our time, New York: Oxford University Press

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