Here is the link to the PDF document for my History of Design Reflective Essay: Eugene Ho’s Reflective Essay
I have always been drawn to graphic designs which were out of the norm, or those that were created intentionally to spread a message, or create tension, or even to protest.
To me, aesthetics in graphic designs are very subjective. One might think that an artwork is good, while the other one might think it is bad. Just like the artwork I mentioned in my previous post by Kazimir Malevich called Black Square:
How many of us are able to appreciate this work of art? Moreover, would you believe me that this work of his was his most famous one, amongst all the others that he did which had more colours and shapes? I didn’t have a huge impression when I first saw this, until I learned about the meaning behind it.
This slab of black paint that dominates the canvas works as grand refusal, shows the nature of abstraction. Favoring flatness over depth, Black Square conveys the feeling of displeasure that arises from the imagination’s inadequacy.
This is where I’ll start to appreciate this piece of art. After knowing the intention of the artist and the underlying meaning behind this painting, my experience of viewing the painting changed- it now involves a feeling of pain brought about by the breakdown of representation, followed by a powerful sense of relief.
My point of raising this up is that art is viewed different by different people. So how do we differentiate art, or how do we define if art is good or bad? In my opinion, there is no good or bad art but rather, if the work itself carries a meaning behind it. This brings me to Seymour Chwast, a graphic designer that was being mentioned in our last lecture.
So, who is Seymour Chwast, and why did I choose to talk about him? Before I carry on, this was the work by him which attracted me to learn more about him and his works:
End Bad Breath, dated 1968. The painting shows Uncle Sam, a traditional symbol of American patriotism, subverted to protest the United States’ ongoing involvement in the Vietnam War.
The work itself looks simple, the medium was just woodcut (blue plate), offset printing, dimensions 28 x 40 inches, something which could be done by any arts students. But it was the message behind this graphic which made it special, which makes me appreciate this, which makes me look at this whole graphic in another light.
“The broadside and the poster are traditional media of protest. I am simply continuing the practice.” — Seymour Chwast, The Left Handed Designer, 1985
This is Seymour Chwast, born on 18 August 1931 in the Bronx, New York.
This was back when he was at the peak of his career.
And this is him now… and he is still working at the age of 88!
“I don’t understand retiring. I have to sit at a drawing table or else it’s a wasted day.” — Seymour Chwast, Co.Design Interview, 2016
Seymour Chwast graduated from Cooper Union. He studied drawing and painting and through that, he learned that he excelled as a nonconformist. And this brings me back to my point again, where I enjoy artworks that do not conform to social norms, which was why I chose to research on him.
After graduation and a few unsuccessful stints in art and promotion departments, he and fellow Cooper classmates Edward Sorel and Milton Glaser form Push Pin Studios in 1954, which was also mentioned in our lecture. Shortly after, Reynold Ruffins joins shortly thereafter. Little did they know, their fortuitous partnership, along with the publication of the Monthly Graphic, establishes the studio as a force of visual and conceptual imagination. A flood of freelance assignments ignites Push Pin’s unique culture of collaboration.
All artists influence each other throughout the generations, that is how different genres of artworks progresses as well. And Chwast, like any other artists, borrows freely from the past too. His works are influenced from Victoriana, Art Nouveau and Art Deco — to create new works that wholly integrate type and art. I would define Chwast as the Postmodern pioneer.
Chwast expressive poster, book, and packaging designs are resolutely individual, in contrast to the narrative realism of illustration, and the confining sameness of modernism, both popular into the 1960s. Fluent in historical styles and movements, Chwast experiments with primitive folk art, surrealism, expressionist woodcuts, and photomontage.
In 1969, Chwast published “The South” issue of Push Pin Graphic.
“Conscience came before commerce, and The South issue was one of the most trenchant graphic design commentaries during a period known for its social and political activism.” — Steven Heller
Chwast launched The Nose.
The Nose was a periodical dedicated to relevant social issues, even if some of them were trivial.
Other than Chwast’s commission works, he himself still crafts his own work to develop as an artist, mining his own psyche for expressive material to explore, examine, and uncover. As he had been through WW2 as a child, he obsessively paints elaborate scenes of warfare, brilliantly filled with planes, parachutes, tanks, and fighting men.
“I have always tried to use my assignments as platforms for whatever I have to say, while the client, in turn, uses me.” — Seymour Chwast
The present Chwast, where he has been into 6 decades of professional practice in the graphic design industry. His work continues to expand, but I felt that it toned down a lot.
His work began to move towards humor and accessible topics of the modern era. I guess, this shows how art evolves over time.
These are the important events during Chwast’s career, and he is very self-driven at this very point in time- working daily on his drawing desk. However, notice the trend in these highlighted events, it was all linked to him creating art that breaks the social norm, or to raise societal issues. This was what made me interested in his works and how he produced them, his thought process and ideology behind each and evert work of art. All in all, Seymour Chwast is definitely a notable figure that changed the design industry- as a designer, an illustrator, and an art director.
To end off, here is a video of Chwast showing some of his personal works, as well as sharing about Push Pin Studios.
It has been a really content-heavy 4 weeks worth of lessons, and I don’t deny that I’ve learned a lot. Lessons were very well structured and well planned, together with quizzes that “forces” us to listen attentively so that we would digest the knowledge being taught to us.
However, the amount of knowledge being taught to us felt like I was back in JC once again- memorizing all the information just for the upcoming exams (in this case would be the quizzes). Once the quiz ends, I forget most of them because it was just too overwhelming. In short, I listened and studied for the sake of the quizzes.
Although content is important, I feel that keeping us engaged in this module (History of Design) itself is equally important as well. Only when we as students are engaged, we would naturally understand all the contents (at least to a certain extent) without the need to intentionally sit down and cram all the facts and materials, which ultimately defeats the whole purpose of studying this module.
That being said, I do understand that the school needs all these topics to be covered in this short period of time too. I don’t have any feedback on how this system could be improved, but this are just some of my thoughts! Still, kudos to all the lecturers that planned these lessons for us. Preparing for small presentations for some modules already drains me out, I can’t imagine how it would be like to plan for a whole cohort for the whole semester…
Here is a brief timeline of the movements founded in their respective years:
1917: De Stijl
Cubists explored open form, piercing figures and objects by letting the space flow through them, blending background into the foreground, and showing objects from various angles.
Futurism was not immediately identified with a distinctive style. The Futurists were fascinated by the problems of representing modern experience and strived to have their paintings evoke all kinds of sensations that were not merely those visible to the eye. Futurist art brings to mind the noise, heat and even the smell of the metropolis.
After the Russian Revolution, Russian artists absorbed Cubism and Futurism to coin a term called Cubo-Futurism.
A short time later, Kazimir Malevich, a Russian avant-garde, was the pioneer of geometric abstract art. He used abstraction, and non-objective geometric patterns in a style and artistic movement he called Suprematism.
Constructivism devoted itself to the practical arts of industrial design and other visual communications. Constructivism called on artists to produce and use art for industry and social causes. It had three main principles: tectonics, texture, and construction. Happening during the time of the Russian Revolution, Constructivism called for order and organization to be restored.
Lastly, De Stijl focuses on the essential elements of representation.
I’ll be focusing on suprematism in this reflection.
Suprematism is an art movement, which focuses on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, triangles, or even just lines. It is usually painted in a limited range of colors such as the primary colours of red, yellow, and blue. Suprematism uses elemental shapes and color to create form.
These concrete elements constructed together created expressive qualities arising not from a pictorial image but from pure content and arrangement. Abstraction became based on sensation and this movement is abstract. Reducing simplicity, moving towards complete abstraction.
Founder of Suprematism
It was founded by Kazimir Malevich in 1913, who is a Russian. Malevich was an avant-garde and art theorist.
He believed that there were only delicate links between words and the objects they denote, and from this, he saw the possibilities for totally abstract art. Malevich came to be intrigued by the search for art’s barest essentials, which eventually derives from using elemental shapes and colors to create abstract art.
Malevich once quoted: “The term suprematism refers to an abstract art based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on visual depiction of objects.” In other words, it means that Suprematist art focuses on the interrelation of form and color, rather than the representation of beautiful images.
In even simpler terms, Suprematism itself refers to the supremacy of the artist’s feelings straight into the artwork, without any desire whatsoever to represent them as real-life things which we all can identify with such as landscapes and portraits.
Now let us look into some of his famous works. Firstly, it would be this painting called Black Cross, oil on canvas painted in the year 1923.
Black cross is included in one of his most abstract works, with very clear geometric lines that are undeniably an example of the Suprematist movement, of which this artist was such a major part. Malevich explores an important aspect of human life, which is the power to choose between two options. Malevich felt the cross was an image of a decision. In this case, this choice is reduced to one between good and evil. The cross here has both religious symbolism in terms of decision making and meaning which applies to cross streets in regular life.
Next up would be this painting named, White on White series Malevich, painted on canvas in 1918.
Malevich pushed the limits of abstraction to an unprecedented degree. Reducing pictorial means to their bare minimum, he not only dispensed with the illusion of depth and volume, but also got rid of one of the essential attributes in paintings, which is color. What remains is a geometric figure, barely differentiated from a slightly warmer white ground, and the illusion of movement by its skewed and off-center position. With its textured surface and delicate brushwork, White on White emphasizes the painting’s material aspects.
Lastly, this would be his most famous work called Black Square.
Black square is painted on linen in the year 1915. The slab of black paint that dominates the canvas works as grand refusal, shows the nature of abstraction. Favoring flatness over depth, Black Square conveys the feeling of displeasure that arises from the imagination’s inadequacy. The experience of viewing the painting involves a feeling of pain brought about by the breakdown of representation, followed by a powerful sense of relief. Black Square was presented as a breakthrough in his career and in art in general.
These are some of his other works of art. What similarities do you see?
After viewing these works of his, you might think that Malevich was just being an over-rated artist, or maybe he just wanted to smoke his way through to become a famous artist that only draws shapes with minimal colours. But let us look at some of his previous works.
Malevich actually developed the concept of Suprematism when he was already an established painter. Here you can see that he was once a traditional painter who paints figures in space. He even had his paintings exhibited in the Donkey’s Tail in 1912, a famous Russian artist group. He is a professional artist.
Influence in the Art Industry
Abstract art is often heavily criticized for its lack of meaning behind the layers of paint on the canvas. However, others believe that this is exactly what makes abstract special. The variety of interpretations allows the viewer to create the meaning themselves. This makes abstract art something that anyone can relate to. Malevich’s works have turned the tables for modern art, allowing a new wave of artists to enter the scene and take over. Here are some of the artists that are influenced by his works.
The top is Untitled, by Davide Balliano in 2016; Bottom is Dulles by Sarah Morris in 2001. With the concept of Suprematism, Malevich expected to express the full spectrum of emotion that a human may feel.
To end off, here is a short video of Malevich’s most famous exhibit which is still renowned in the modern world now:
In the video, you’ll recognise some of the works that I have explained earlier on, and you will see how he transformed from a traditional painter to an abstract artist as he progresses.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period between the late 18th Century and early 20th Century, which saw rapid growth in mechanisation, industrial production and change in society. It began in Great Britain and then spread across the United States and the rest of the world.
There were two stages of the Industrial Revolution:
1. The first stage of the Industrial Revolution (1770-1870) – Centred on steam, water, iron and shift from agriculture.
2. The second stage of Industrial Revolution (1870-1914) – New technologies of electricity, development of petrol engine, oil, and greater use of cheap steel.
Industrial and scientific discoveries enabled a revolution in our understanding of the material world. Thus, there was a population shift – moving from rural agriculture to work in factories in cities which led to mass production of goods, increased efficiency, reducing average costs to enable more goods to be produced.
As such, the Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history as it hugely impacted the way societies in the world would function in the years to come, such as graphic reactions.
The Linotype Machine
That was briefly what the Industrial Revolution was, I’ll now introduce the Linotype Machine.
The Linotype Machine was invented in 1884 by a German watchmaker named Ottmar Mergenthaler, which is probably one of the most notable creations during the Industrial Revolution. This was during the second stage of the Industrial Revolution, where new technologies and the use of cheap steel were introduced into the industry.
This machine sped up the process of printing which revolutionized the newspaper and book printing industries through the ingenious method of “line casting”. Line casting refers to placing the entire line of type for printing instead of using. Individual letter for typesetting.
How it works
Linotype Machine came from the derivation of its full name- Line of Type, which is a literal description of the machine itself. Here is a video I found, showing a demonstration of the linotype:
If you can’t already tell, the Linotype is an extremely loud machine. Thus, many deaf people were hired to work in this printing industry as they would not be bothered by the noise pollution created during the process, not kidding.
The height of an average Linotype is roughly seven-foot high, and it works by creating one line of type at a time. It uses matrices, which are small brass units that have edges indented with characters that are assembled into lines to compose text.
Once the matrix line is established, a line of type is automatically cast via a solid bar, called the Linotype slug.
The operator types the information on the keyboard and the Linotype pulls type, which can then be printed.
How it differs from other printing methods
The invention of Linotype sped up the process of printing excessively, which allowed letterpress to prosper. Before the invention of Linotype, a huge group of people would be needed to set the type by hand one letter at a time which took a really long time as it was awfully tedious and slow. Other than it being labor-intensive, many typesetters would run out of letters, also known as “sorts”.
The productivity and efficiency made many workers fear that they would lose their jobs as the Linotype created a method for mechanization which cuts down the number of workers needed for typesetting. However, due to supply and demand, there was no issue of unemployment. There was a huge demand for books, newspapers, and magazines due to them being produced so fast. This, in turn, increased the supply and more people were recruited to run the machines to meet the demand of the population.
Influence on society
Linotype machines made an especially huge impact in the newspaper industry. They were first used for the New York Tribune back in 1886. They revolutionized the industry by making newspapers run longer than a few pages.
As mentioned above, since the supply of newspapers increased due to the huge demand, this also meant that the spread of information on political and social events became so much faster as more people have access to the newspapers. Thus, the population was able to keep up with the current affairs.
Not only that, Linotype made education more available to everyone as the printing of textbooks increased as well. Religion also slowly began to rely on it as well- bibles were able to be printed in bulks to be spread across the world.
Not long later, the Linotype spread to different areas in the world, introducing different languages to be incorporated into the machine with their respective local languages. By 1928, Linotype became the primary typesetting device around the world.
The linotype machine was truly an amazing invention. It did not appear as an overnight invention- a lot of thought process was put into place before the final prototype which proves its simple yet reliable design. it revolutionizes the printing industry, increasing productivity and efficiency which made text a lot more accessible to the population.
Although technology has bloomed in our current generation and Linotype has retired, the importance of print through Linotype should not be forgotten. Without the Linotype, we would not be right here with the current typesetting and printing we enjoy in our daily lives. Let’s not take things for granted, and appreciate the pioneer inventions which led us to where we are today!
It was our first lecture last week on Typography, shifting from product design to visual communication in our staggered lesson structure. It was interesting to learn about the evolution of typography, albeit rather content heavy- two hours’ worth of information being loaded to us. I won’t be focusing on just one subject matter, so here is a general summary of what I had learnt so far in lesson one. I’ll be highlighting some important terms along the way, they’ll be in bold.
The lecture started off with cave paintings and petroglyphs.
Through these cave paintings, the inscribing and drawings it had was more of conveying of information rather than it being aesthetic. Slowly, writing became more abstract, in cuneiform.
It changed from sharp stylist and pictorial, to being complex and indefinite. Then came sound words, pictures of things that could represent an idea.
This was something which took the longest time to decipher, until rosette stone was found. Rosette stone had three different type of languages: Top being hieroglyph, middle being demotic script, and bottom being Greek language.
This is the Book of dead. The material used is Papyrus. Felt the material during class, seems as though it is one of those leaves that the hawker uncles serve their hokkien mee in. One interesting fact of this type is that it could be read from left to right, or right to left, or top to down, based on direction of symbol.
Next would be the alphabet transformation. Only 21 alphabets initially, all consonants and no vowels.
This is a Votive stela with four figures. From the type as seen below the sculptures, the “A” looks like triangle, “T” look like a form of rectangle, and the “E” is like a square with the dot as the middle stroke. This type is to be read in Boustrophedon– left to right then right to left like a zigzag direction. However, it eventually just transform to be read from left to right like how we normally read in this era.
Over here we have Greek uncials, which shows a more cursive writing. due to less strokes. As such, they could write more efficiently. As you can see, the type are all of the same height, which is what uncials mean.
Then we have the Roman square capital, where there are no spaces between words all join together. They are separated by the dots in between each words. This is the first appearance of serif. In other words, we could also call them square letters.
As for the Roman rustic capitals, these are the normal people writings. The type is smaller and thinner width wise, and much lesser strokes as seen.
This is the Book of Kells. It is half uncial (insular), which is an extension of the alphabet. The material used is parchment skin, which is smoother to write on as compared to Papyrus as mentioned earlier.
From the Book of Kells, it influenced the Caroline minuscule script. Minusculerefers to the lower case letters. Also, we start to see obvious strokes above and below, there isn’t a fixed height for each type anymore.
This is the Douce apocalypse. For this type, the vertical strokes of each alphabet were first drawn, the curves are then filled in thereafter. Thus, we could see that it is much more condense, with more characters in a line. Although this looks dense, it as meant to be space-saving.
From here, we’ll be venturing into the Chinese area for type. This is an Oracle bone script, earliest known form of Chinese writing. It was used for definitions such as forecasting weather.
This is the Diamond sutra. It is the first printed scroll/book for anyone to attain it and read it. We start to see calligraphy from where in the form of regular script, this was when Emperor Qing united all the different provinces in China.
Moving away from the chinese writings, here we have the Biblia Pauperum. It has Pictorial artefacts which serves as a purpose to explain to people who were illiterate.
Touching a little but on product design, this is the Gutenberg punch and matrix. Gutenberg created this movable type. He was trained as metalsmith and this is his main invention.
Here is a short clip I found online which might help us to understand it a little better:
Then we have the Gutenberg bible, which is based on gothic letterforms from Germany.
In De dibinis, both alphabets upper and lower case were all used as the designs have to be compatible.
Slowly, we can start to recognise these type as they start to form the shape of the alphabets we use in our current generation. In Romain du Rol from France, this type design was considered a transitional type. Thick and thin alphabets becomes more obvious, and the type as a whole looks more and more vertical as compared to old style gararond.
Then we have Vergil’s Bucolica, another transitional typeface. From here, type started to become what we name as minimalist style. It shows hierarchy and contrast using only type alone.
Finally, we have Manule Tipografico, where we see Modern typefaces.
It was interesting to see the evolution and process of typography. Typography is used by ancient civilizations of the world to represent ideas ever since the beginning, and these images soon evolved into alphabets and phonographic writing, which led to the development of various typographic systems we have right now.
In conclusion, typography no doubt has an extensive history, and is obviously a crucial aspect of graphic design.