I believe the birth of modernism came from a desire for change. At the turn of the century, people started to question society. Artists and designers set out to find new ways of expressing themselves using mass production. Art Deco was created, an opulent, decorative display, with organic forms which were rich and exciting. It was born out of the war, a stark contrast to the loss; it brought life into the décor of the time. Artists and designers challenged the norm, they wanted to push the boundaries of culture, art and politics, they were described as “Avant Garde”.
WW1 was a catalyst for change. Artist and designers wanted to create work that touched everybody. They used abstract geometry, simplified sans serif typefaces, and photomontage, with the concept that these processes would create a visual language that transcended throughout class and culture. They were used extensively in post revolutionary Russia but also in other major European cities. In Germany the Bauhaus was born. The Bauhaus was interested in design for the masses that were functional with a truth to materials; they embraced a-symmetry, rejecting traditional values. These principles were key to modernism.
Cubism was also a key movement, Picasso and Braque played with the image giving a multitude of viewpoints. They broke down the conventions of layout in their paintings, rejecting tradition, they were far more abstract and playful. This dismissal of the old was something that followed through into many modernist movements; Futurism embraced the new, finding inspiration in technology. It glorified the future, speed and youth. Modernism encompassed abstraction, technology and a rejection of traditional values, creating a new utopian world.
2. Visual examples:
As modernism was coming to the forefront of popular culture, the art needed to move and reflect with these changes. Illustration was a visual way of communicating these changes, as it looks about the world and comments on it.
Cassandre, 1935, Normandie.
Cassandre was a commercial illustrator; he focused on advertising, creating work for the masses. One of the most visible changes to advertising at the turn of the century was the adoption of mechanical objects in everyday life. His work is pared down; showing a truth to materials. He was influenced by the Bauhaus, which favor these processes. The cubists also influenced him. His work is abstracted, with flat, sharp shapes. The ship is made to look grand, towering over the viewers. This shows the excitement and admiration of the evolving technology.
Website I got image from. [http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/graphic_designers/cassandre/cassandre.htm]
John Heartfield, 1932, Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and sprouts rubbish.
John Heartfield’s Illustrations made a profound effect on modern advertising. He used a lot of photomontage, a processes that was fresh, deterring from the traditional hand drawn approach. “Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and sprouts rubbish” was produced in 1932; a period of economic instability for Germany. The depression in Germany spurred a change in the modern art world. As the Nazis came into power; artits work was destroyed or sold, they were unable to produce artwork. John Heartfield’s piece clearly illustrates his frustration with the fascist leaders, he was pro-capitalist, wanting equality for the masses.
Fortunato Depero, 1923, Ciclisti
Fortunato Depero was also very influential in advisiting. He became part of the futurist manifesto, a group of avant-garde Italians full of revolutionary aspirations. Fururism was a central movement to modernism, it was interested in mechanical shapes, speed, technology and youth. Futurism glorified the machine. You can see this influence in Depero’s poster.
E.Mcknight Kauffer,1931, Power: the nerve centre of London’s underground.
E.Mcknight Kauffer embraced poster art as a form of visual communication, to connect with the masses. He worked abstractly, influenced by cubisim and futurism. You can see this influence by the sharp flat shapes and direction in his work, the posters he produced for the underground were full of movement embracing the new technology. The arm in this poster looks strong, fusing human bodys to machinery. Its powerful and exciting.
George Grosz, 1917-18, The Funeral, dedicated to Oskar Panizza
George Grosz, was an illustrator of the social revolution. He often refleted on the victims of the first world war, crippled and mutilated. He also portrayed the collapse of the capatalist socitey. He was heavily influenced by expressionism, futurism and cubisim. He uses the ruler to draw everything, a very modernist process, using your machine or tool. In this Illustration was commenting on the state of society, suggesting a time for change.
3. Quotes and Citations:
The futurists influenced many artists during the moderist period. Type was heavily influenced by the manifesto. It was rediscoverd, breathing life into what was once considered a clutterd page. They embarassed the white space and primary colours as these, as stated in the futurist manifesto, were seen as pure, ‘Use of pure black, pure white or the plain canvas for neutral areas or to obtain the greatest intensity from the colours’ (Futurist Manifestos, 1973, p.97). Here they outline what they belive should be a foundation in their work. The work was simplified in others ways, introducing san seriffs. A desire for change was errupting, challenging the norm, and bringing a truth in materials. ‘These avant gaurde artists and writers made type an expressive medium:one with which, as futurists, they could attack ‘old fashioned,passeist’ values in art, culture and society.’ (Bartram, 2004, p.49)
Type became more exciting and innovative; ‘more expressive and adventurous layouts reflecting the meaning would enhance commmunication,’(Bartram, 2004, p.46). They were interested in layout, playing around with type making patterns with it and articulating the text. Everything had a purpose, it was simple and informative. Everyone could understand it. The de stijl movement also greatly influenced type, founded in 1917, it simplified visual compositions, with strong blocks of colour and vertical and horizontal grid formulas. They used only primary colours, along with black and white. It was interested in form, and function. ‘The aims of de-stijl, in which van doesburg was a key feature, were geomterical order and clarity.’(Bartram, 2004). This philosophy reflects that of the futurists with their use of sharp geometric shapes and lines. It was clear, sparse and machine-like. Their images were orderd and clear. In the furturist manifesto they talk of throwing out tradtional values in art, as Boccioni said, ‘we have come to the conclusion that the great and famous art of the past is, in fact, a very trivial thing.’(Futurist Manifestos, 1973, p.51) This new way of ordering the page was starkly different to the traditional art nouvea formula. William Morris was a huge influence to the movement, the swirls and overwhelming layout of the page was far more heavy and distracting. The modernist designers such as the futurists wanted to move away from this organic, lavish layout. They introduced a more simple layout that was fresh and true.
4. Critical analysis:
I have argued throughout my essay that the futurists were hugily influencial to many areas in modernism. This was as a result of their interest in power, technology and straight, flat, abstracted lines. However, much of the futurists work is clutterd and murky in colour. Whilst reading futurist manifestos, Umberto Boccioni wrote about futurist painting and sculpture in 1914,
we say that the line and the outline do not exist, if they are thought of as the fixed boundaries of the planes which determine them. This is a true return to the antique. Lines and outlines must only exist as forces bursting forth from the dynamic action of the bodies. (Nash, 1974,p.35)
The futurists suggest that the line is in fact a traditional feature in art, which should not be used to represent any object, only to represent motion in the body. However the Bauhaus and De-stijl movements embaraced the line. As Mondrian belivied
... this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and color. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and color, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary color. (Friedenthal, 1963, p.236)
The de-stijl movement sought to find harmony in their work. They achieved this through order and simplicity.
The futurists work could be viewed as complicated, confusing and more traditional. The 1909 “Founding and First Manifesto of Futurism” is best known for its glorifying action and voilence. However I feel this embrace of voilence is not a modernist theory but a traditional one. After World War 1, Europe was hit with a huge loss of life and devistation. A new wave in art resulted, the Bauhuas being part of this. Yet in the futurist Manifesto they state that ‘We will glorify war- the world’s only hygiene-militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the Anarchist.’(Futurist Manifestos, 1973, p.88.) This patriotic view is far more taditional. During the war many artists and deisgners started questioning the way society was run, and as a result became interested in socialism. You can see this in the Bauhaus’s simple designs. Creating something that could be used by the ordinary man. I feel that although the furturists were interested in the expanding use of technology, which was key to modernism, they also had quite strong views which to me seem to be more traditionalist than modernist.
1. Bartram,A. (2004) Bauhaus, Modernism and the illustrated book. London: The British Library.
2. Blum, C.S. (1996) The other modernism: F.T. Marinetti’s Furturist Fiction of Power. 9th ed. United States of America: University of California Press.
3. Futurist Manifestos: (1973): Great Britain: Thames and Hudson.
4. Friedenthal, R. (1963) Letters of the great artists. London: Thames and Hudson.
5. Huyssen, A. (1988) After The Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture and Postmodernism. 2nd ed. London: The macmillan Press Ltd.
6. Nash, J.M. (1974) Cubism, Futurism and constructivism. London: Cox and Wyman Ltd.
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