Key Concepts Reader The material which follows explains the purpose
of this unit and discusses the methods we shall be using. It introduces and explains the main technical terms and offers some examples of how they are used. You are advised to read this carefully at the beginning but also to keep returning to it in the course of your work for the unit throughout the term. It is designed as reference material. The aim of this unit is for you to build an outline understanding of the development of art, design and popular culture through the twentieth (C20) and twenty-first (C21) centuries. This is a long period but it is important in understanding why the present situation is like it is. Inevitably we can only look at specific examples in the belief that they will be typical and tell us something important about the period. The basis of the unit is the idea that any piece of art, design or music, although it may seem to have come straight from the mind of the artist or designer who made it, is also a piece of history, and just like any historical event, is the result of a combination of causes which made it possible. After all the artist or designer, lives, works and thinks in a particular historical period or context and if we can understand something of the context we shall better understand the work. Your job, in putting together the materials for your seminar presentations, is to reflect on the examples suggested by your tutor, analyse the objects and the texts and offer some discussion of what you think were the important causes which came together to create the objects under discussion. In the course of the twentieth century there were massive political, economic, social and technological changes in the western world and these were obviously reflected in art, design and popular culture. Massive changes always bring
about different and conflicting responses in people but, very roughly, you could argue that during the first 60 years of the twentieth century, there was a strong, positive, progressive attitude to these changes which has come to be called modernism. During the second half of the C20, this belief was challenged in various ways which came to be called post-modernism. Both words are simply labels for a set of ideas, beliefs, and attitudes which had an important effect on the way people practised, thought about, discussed, wrote about and understood the meaning and purpose of art, design and popular culture. In the course of this unit we shall be looking both at specific examples of writing that discuss art design and popular culture and specific examples of images from the period in order to explore how people understood these issues at the time. We shall see significant changes over the period of 110 years or so that we are considering.
The unit offers two ways or methods of making sense in studying of all this material:
THE PRODUCTION/ coNSUMPTION MODEL (A model is a simplified version of how something works which is often presented in the form of a diagram; a familiar example would be the way weather is modelled by forecasters on TV)
One way is to consider the work of art/design
or popular culture under discussion as an object which goes through three separate phases in its lifetime: It is made by somebody It then becomes available to an audience by some means The audience then uses it in some way or other, for a longer or shorter period.
This is known as the production / consumption model (see Walker and Chaplin 1998 on the booklist for more detail). It has been developed by academic historians as a fruitful way of looking at the objects produced within cultures. The next section explains this in a bit more detail, with examples and introducing the basic technical terms.
the production process, as in the cases of film or recorded music. It is not only physical things (artefacts) that are disseminated, ideas and beliefs and attitudes get disseminated through discussion and publication in magazines, newspapers and in the early years, manifestos. (A manifesto is like a mission statement, usually written in strong, assertive language, for an example see the Futurist Manifesto, a text which can be found under the Seminars 1 & 2 link). In later years we have to consider the role of the broadcast (TV and Radio) and web-based media as disseminators of ideas.
We need a general word which will cover all the different kinds of things made by designers, artists, musicians and writers within the realm of design and popular culture: we could use the word ‘object’ as in the previous paragraph but this could be confusing since it has other meanings so we prefer to use the word artefact to refer to any piece of work, visual, aural or written which we want to study. This is a piece of jargon but it is useful and worth learning (its original meaning is: ‘made by human action’ ).
3. The consumption stage
It (the artefact) is consumed by the audience. The audience, or user or buyer makes some sort of meaningful contact with the artefact.
1. The production stage
Examples: They might buy it to meet a specific purpose, a garment for a particular occasion, or to make a lifestyle statement. They might read a poster for information, or acquire it to stick on a bedroom wall, they might listen to a piece of music for dancing, for a romantic memory, they might look at a sculpture in an art gallery as part of Sunday afternoon out.
The artefact is produced by a maker (or makers)
from a combination of ideas and physical materials and human resources. Example: a graphics poster is a combination of ideas about Parisian music hall, commissioned by the theatre management, designed and printed by Jules Cheret, in a lithographic workshop, with craftsmen printers helping, (human resources) using the specific techniques printing image and text in three or four colours in one process. An important factor is the need to print many copies (physical materials).
How things are consumed, who is allowed to consume things, what things mean and who they mean them to, these are very important questions in understanding the consumption stage. After all it’s the stage where culture is experienced directly by people as they look at art, wear clothes, listen to music etc. For that reason we can expect to find debate, disagreement, and controversy and the formation of cultural battle lines, from Futurist activity through to punk provocation.
2. The dissemination stage
The artefact is disseminated or distributed through organisations and by methods developed specifically to make it available to its intended audience.
Examples: Cheret’s posters were simply stuck up on convenient bill boards but clothing produced for the growing middle class ready to wear market needed new kinds of shops like department stores to make the artefacts available to the intended audience and new forms of advertising to attract and inform audiences. Composers of popular music hall songs needed published sheet music or pianola
1895 poster by Jules Cheret advertising cigarettes
lithographic process,” a breakthrough allowing artists to achieve every color in the rainbow with as little as three stones –usually red, yellow and blue.
rolls to disseminate their ideas to their audiences, or, of course, theatrical and music hall shows. Artists used art galleries. Artists/designers always have to bear in mind how the work would be disseminated in the production process. In some instances the means of dissemination totally changed the nature of
There are no guarantees that what the artist/ designer intended to achieve at the production stage will be understood in the same way by the audience of users at the consumption stage. Similarly artefacts are consumed differently, at different times in history. (Frieda Kahlo, a world-wide feminist art icon in the 1990s was relatively unknown in her lifetime in her own country, Mexico).
2. CAUSAL FACTORS/ THE DRIVERS
second way in which we consider the previous 100 or so years of art design and popular culture is to look at the various causes which have combined to make things turn out as they did. These are called causal factors or drivers in the unit handbook. Below is a discussion of how these causes or drivers work, with examples. Any or all of these drivers might have influenced the way the artefacts of art, design and popular culture end up looking or sounding the way they did, and it is likely that they will all have played some part.
1. Formal innovation / consensual formal language
artefact is produced by an artist or designer to look or sound a certain way in order to communicate its meaning to an audience. It is unavoidable that it has to have a physical form and, if it is to communicate, it must use a language. Putting these two thoughts together, we can speak of the formal language (the language of form) of an artefact: the way it looks or sounds. For works of art or design, the formal language is visual so we can also refer to its visual language, more generally its style which means the same thing. In the case of music the formal language is aural: the sound is structured through rhythm and pitch, volume and texture all of which are heard, we refer to this as the musical language or style, which again, means the same thing.
and wanted to push the boundaries, looking for new formal languages to communicate in ways which seemed more appropriate to the time or circumstances they were living in. We call this process formal innovation, making it new. (It’s important to understand that this formal innovation is made in the visual language or the musical language.) Thus in looking at any artefact we can begin to understand it by placing it on a spectrum somewhere between the consensual visual or musical language at one end and formal innovation at the other. Of course, most innovation means adapting the consensual or shared in some way or other. Examples: • Modernist architects and designers objected to the consensual language of decorating a building with either Classical or Gothic elements (the style of the typical British town hall of the early C20) and developed a new formal language for architecture and design by stripping out all of these elements from the past to concentrate on
Mcqueen’s menswear show A/W 2009, Milan Fashion Week for which a Victorian street scene was created by using lamp-posts
West London’s The Trellick Tower; designed by Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger, built 1968-1972, demonstrating a “Brualist” concrete exterior. In 1998, it was awarded a Grade 2* listing.
revealing the structure, materials and purpose of the building. • Punk musicians reacted to the consensual language and pompousness of stadium rock by reducing the musical language to a few chords and simplified emphatic rhythms in order to communicate more directly and up close with their audiences. This was a formal innovation, even though it seemed more primitive. The punk musician Patti Smith performing at The Bottom Line, NY, December 27th, 1975
Sunderland Town Hall, in the typical Victorian ornate style of architecture (sometimes called “Italian Renaissance”). The building was demolished in 1960
At any given time in a culture there will be one or more languages or styles which are well established and understood by most people as a result of previous developments. (Think of the way in which you came to use, learn and understand your own verbal language by hearing other people using it.) Artists or designers who want to communicate with big audiences will use these consensual, or shared visual or musical languages. (See John Berger Ways of Seeing.)
apparently much to the disgust of local residents.
However it is a feature of twentieth century art and design that artists and designers have often felt restricted by these consensual languages
Road, NW3) designed
Swiss Cottage Library in London (Avenue by Sir Basil Spence,and built from 1962-1964.
• Alexander McQueen transformed the consensual language of the catwalk show as a series of garments for various seasons by developing a formal language based on specific dramatic or historical themes.
2. Developments in technology
Large scale: It is fairly obvious that developments
in technology will affect culture. On the large scale in this period we have to consider the growth of industry, the mechanisation of production and the development of mass production, technologies of travel (rail, motor cars, flight) the technologies of communication (radio, film, telephone, newspapers and magazines, TV, webbased media). Examples: • The Futurists and Cubists were interested in the impact of mechanical speed on human perception, as road and rail travel became faster and more efficient and air travel became possible, their paintings reflected this.
Luigi Russolo Dynamism of an Automobile (1912-13)
• Many designers thought that mass production techniques would bring high design quality to audiences previously unable to afford it.
• Man-made materials such as nylon transformed the production and consumption of glamour.
• Communication technologies in the late C20 made possible the global brands like McDonalds, Armani, Ford and Sony.
• The last two examples show how technology transfer is often an important factor here; materials being developed for one purpose get used for another as a result of creative insight.
3. Mediating agencies
The artefacts of art, design and culture are always
Small scale: the introduction of new material and new media are always important causal factors in design and culture;
the subjects of debate, discussion, argument, theory, promotion and publicity. This happens as soon as they are produced and disseminated as part of the consumption stage. Later on they will be written up in historical articles, journals and books. In the early years of the C20 this discussion and debate was mainly in the form of printed discussion, manifestos, avant garde journals and newspaper reviews and criticism, although much of this would originally have been based on conversation. With the development of the film, broadcast and web-based media we can see that that the number of places for discussion and promotion has vastly increased and at the present time the range of mediating agencies is vastly greater than it has ever been.
Examples: • The invention of the vinyl gramophone record transformed the notion of musical performance and seriously affected the sheet music publication industry. The further development of recording technology has made possible the concept (perhaps a marketing concept) of ‘world music’. • Film as a medium generated a range of cinematic art forms: Hollywood film, documentary, artfilm, propaganda, etc. • The development of plywood made possible new forms for furniture design (Charles Eames ‘Lounge Chair’ 1950s) 1952 advertisment 1953, Informative advert
Examples: • Picasso and Braque were able to develop the extremely difficult formal language of Cubist painting because they had a dealer who could sell these paintings to a small audience of collectors. Unlike other Cubists such as Delaunay, they didn’t have to worry about the way critics would respond to their works in the annual Salon public exhibitions.
Pablo Picasso, Female Nude, (1910)
We can consider, printed journalism, film, TV programmes, pre-publicity, web-based contributions, exhibitions, films and catalogues made by museums and galleries as well as the publication of books in various genres from popular collections of images (Taschen Books) to academic works (Harvard Press). We refer to all of these as mediating agencies because they stand between (in the middle of) the producer and the consumer, suggesting to the consumer how the work should be read, experienced or understood.
Luigi Russolo Dynamism of an Automobile (1912-13)
a particular artefact has been produced with these factors in mind.
Examples: all of the texts within this unit are examples of the work of mediating agencies of one kind or another. Publication, exhibition, display and retail. It should be obvious that these causal factors would also be considered as part of the dissemination stage. Any cultural artefact can only communicate if it is made available to an audience and the ways in which it is made available will affect how it is produced and how it is consumed. These ways of exhibiting, publishing, displaying, and selling have been vastly extended through the twentieth century and it will be important to consider how
Georges Braque, Woman with a guitar, (1913)
• It is often argued that the highly creative British fashion graduates of the 1990s, critically successful during London Fashion Week, failed to develop their own independent businesses and labels because there was no established investment framework within the British fashion industry. (See A. McRobbie British Fashion Design.)
UK teenagers in the 1950s
5. Political Factors
In looking at political factors we ask questions
• The Brit-Art phenomenon of the 1990s and 2000s possible partly because, for the first time in Britain, there were a number of wealthy collectors prepared to invest in contemporary British art. Charles Saatchi is the most famous, and it is worth noting that his wealth came from the massive growth of his advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi during the 1980s when the British economy was again thriving. This was also the period of massive growth of design consultancies like Fitch, who designed Heathrow Terminal 4.
A double page spread of contents pages from The Face 1982
• The Face magazine in the early 1980’s was a place where photographers and graphic designers who were interested in formal innovation could communicate with a specific audience. • The development of the Indie record industry in the early 1980s was an outlet for bands whose music did not conform to the tastes of the major record labels.
4. Economic factors
In looking at economic factors we ask questions
about how art, design and popular culture is funded and also what is it worth in terms of monetary value. It’s sometimes said that artists produce work for their own reasons of selfexpression and that designers produce work to meet the needs of someone else but even artists have to make a living and it is fair to say that nearly all the artefacts of art design and popular culture were made to be bought and sold. On the large (macro-economic) scale the amount of money available in a society for production, dissemination and consumption will have important effects on the kinds of work that
is made; on the small (micro-economic) scale most designers will be producing work to a brief within funding limits set by the company they are working for in order to earn their own living. The costs of production and dissemination materials, labour and time will have significant impact on the nature of the artefact and how much it costs to consume. Examples: • In the late 1950s and early 1960s the successful British economy was booming (at the macroeconomic level) and working class teenagers were, for the first time, earning enough money to spend on clothes and music. The British versions of rock ’n‘ roll music and fashion and later the Swinging London of the 1960s was a result of these economic factors.
Alan Yentob (the then Director of Drama, Entertainment and Children’s for the BBC) with Ron Mueck’s Dead Dad (1996-97), promotional photograph from the BBC’s 2003 show, The Saatchi Phenomenon.
Yentob stood behind Mueck’s Mask 1997, polyester resin and mixed media
about how art, design and popular culture is affected by the actions and beliefs of the state or government of a society .This is the original meaning of politics but in contemporary usage we also think of politics as the exercise of power (as in sexual politics or racial politics) and so we also ask questions about who has power and how it is used. As we saw above, economic power is an important factor but there are other forms of power too, and a most important one is the power of ideas, particularly ideas about how we should live in society, ideas about freedom, justice, fairness, creativity and self expression. Another aspect of power to consider is the ability to publish and disseminate ideas. We take it for granted that in modern democratic societies, there is at least a potential freedom of expression but there have been a number of occasions during the twentieth century when governments have determined what artists and designers could and could not do (e.g. Russia 1920s, Nazi Germany 1930s). Art, design and popular culture exist within the context of competing ideas and the exercise of power. At some points during the twentieth century artists and designers worked for specific political ends and at others within the context of political oppression. Even the idea of ‘popular culture’ as a form worthy of academic study at a university, is the result of debates about who has the power to rule on what is good or bad art/design. Examples: • All students on this course are here as the result of a political decision, made by government, that art, design and popular culture are worthwhile subjects for study and should be funded from public taxation. The original idea goes back in Britain to the 1830s and the establishment of what is now the Royal College of Art but it is now almost universally agreed. British students are here because the State funds universities and
at least some of the student expenses. Many overseas students are here because their own governments believe the same thing. Back in the 1830s the British were worried that they were not competing successfully with the France and Germany in the design markets, and much the same belief applies now on a world wide scale. • In the early C20, many Modernist artists and designers were motivated by the political belief that social equality was a necessary and inevitable result of the industrialisation of the western world and they thought of their design work as a way of achieving social equality in housing, and what we now call consumer goods. • A frequent theme in the history of AfroAmerican music since the 1920s has been the interplay of racial politics and economic power; many black artists have looked to establish a musical identity which expressed the black experience along with economic independence in the music business (Ray Charles, Miles Davis, James Brown. The Rap explosion would be the most recent example.)
Photograph of the Mexican
artist, Frida Kahlo, 1931.
• The emergence of the Pop art and design movement in the 1950s and 60s was taken as evidence that the pleasures of the urban working population were worthwhile in themselves, and worthy of artistic and academic consideration.
“Holiday” (Christmas) window displays at Macy’s, New York.
7. Conceptual models of art and design
Being an artist or designer is a social role, what a designer or artist does, or is expected to do, is defined by the expectations, and conventions of the social system he or she works in. The details of the role will be the result of education and existing practice and at any given time it will consist of a number assumptions, some unspoken, along with ideas expressed in conversation, journalism, manifestos and theory.
Art work/poster by the Guerilla Girls, a group of artistic writers and film-makers who started their protests at the gender imbalance in the art world by drawing attention to the situation within New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.
6. Social Factors The Best Of Ray Charles 19 70 Atlantic Records
• The rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s and the question asked by Linda Nochlin “Why are there so few women artists?” resulted in an increased consciousness of the politics of gender, the emergence of many more women artists into positions of influence (Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger) and the revival of previously overlooked female artists and designers (Mary Cassat, Frieda Kahlo, Lee Miller, Charlotte Perriand, Pauline Boty).
In looking at social factors we ask questions about
how changes in the make up of a society affect art, design and popular culture. Over the last 100 years or so in western Europe we can list a number of large scale social changes: the growth of cities and massive working populations within them, creating new art and design markets, the decline of the aristocracy (landed gentry) and a gradual democratisation of society, a sense that the old orders of upper, middle and lower social classes were breaking down, the growth social equality and independence for women, the increasing wealth (disposable income) of the working populations. Many writers have identified a movement from the social consciousness of the early twentieth century to a form of individualism fuelled by consumerism in which people have become less conscious of themselves as members of a common society. At the same time we can note the emergence of sub-cultures and ‘tribes’ at the same time.
I was a Rich Man’s Plaything Collage, 1947 Eduardo Paolozzi
• The independent middle class woman was an important market for the emerging department stores of London, Paris, Chicago and New York in the early years of the C20. (Selfridges, Bon Marché, Bloomingdales).
There is a strong similarity here with the idea of a consensual formal language discussed above, and, just in the same way that there is always a pressure to modify the consensual language, so we will see that the idea of what art and design practice is supposed to be has also changed through this period, and for similar reasons, as a result of the combined impact of the other causal factors discussed above. And, as always these changes are expressed in controversy and argument, along with enthusiastic, idealistic assertions. For this reason it is always worth asking what conceptual model of art and design was current in trying to understand why a particular artist or designer approached their work in the way that they did. Examples:
Promotional postcard for Selfridges
• Ken Garland produced the First Things First Manifesto in the 1960s because he was dissatisfied with the idea that the conceptual model of the designer as a servant of consumer capitalism was becoming established. He revived it in the late 1990s for the same reasons, thinking things had got much worse, since by now there existed the conceptual model of designer goods.
First Things First Manifesto - Ken Garland 1960
• Although the idea of the artist or designer as a creative individual does seem to be a continuing feature of all the conceptual models of art and design, some have questioned the model of the artist or designer as a superior craftsman with a special relationship to his materials. Laszlo Moholy Nagy in the 1920s, Andy Warhol in the 1960s and Jeff Koons in the 1990s all had their work made by other people whilst claiming it as their own; Moholy Nagy famously claiming that his only contact with the work was by telephone (then a new communication medium). • The conceptual model of folk singer was redefined by Bob Dylan at his British concerts in the late 1960s when, after an acoustic first half, he appeared after the interval with the Band and electric instruments. The fact that someone in the audience shouted out “Judas” is a measure of the kinds of disagreement that changes in the expected model can create. Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival
8. Audiences and taste.
A s we know from the production/consumption
model, the artefacts of art and design are almost always aimed at audiences or users of some kind. (By ‘using’ we can mean anything from looking, listening, using functionally: wearing, reflecting, reading etc). It is obvious that there are many different audiences and that audiences have different expectations and different degrees of knowledge. In our period that the potential size of audiences has grown enormously through the developing communication technologies along with retailing and advertising strategies. In the C21 there is a complex and often overlapping network of large, broadcast, narrowcast, niche, specialist and cult audiences. Because of the social changes which we
discussed above, there have also been important changes in the importance attached to them. Audiences interact with works of art or design on the basis of their knowledge, experience and expectations, and for this reason artists and designers must address works of art and design in a way which takes account of this if they want to communicate effectively. The disseminators of art and design (commissioning editors, commercial clients, producers, retail buyers, gallery dealers etc.) will usually make sure this happens. Some audiences expect to be challenged by the art and design work and others expect a measure of familiarity or reassurance. Here the idea of genre is a useful term to indicate the kind of thing an audience can expect: on TV we speak of the genres of ‘soap opera’, ‘reality television’ or ‘make-over shows’ and in each case this indicates a certain kind of content, style, structure and attitude from the viewer. On the other hand the genre of ‘art-house movie’ implies an audience prepared to be variously puzzled, troubled or engaged by the visual language, structure and subject matter of the film. In other words audiences respond to art and design work according to their interests, and their interests are formed by their social background, education, occupation, wealth and social and cultural ambitions. In earlier periods it is fair to say that the audiences for art, design and popular culture were very much restricted by the social position of their members. The art and design of the European aristocracy and upper middle classes was not physically available to the lower classes who anyway would not have known what to do with it. Similarly it wasn’t until the 1800s that the products of the lower social classes became interesting to the artists, designers and intellectuals and was eventually dignified with the name of ‘popular culture’. In the twentieth century the social factors discussed above have almost totally changed this picture. The process of democratisation which began in the 1800s has continued and the idea that art and design should not be just the property of social elite has become well established. By the 1960s the products and the audiences of popular culture were beginning to be considered on equal terms with the products of high culture and this process has accelerated in the later, post-modern period.
Sooner or later any discussion of the consumption of the products of art, design and popular culture comes down to the question of taste: “Is it any good? Do we like it?”. There are many proverbs suggesting that taste is subjective; “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but as the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu noted, when we make judgements of taste we are making them on the basis of our social, economic and educational experience, and, in deciding whether something is good or bad, we are inevitably agreeing with and asserting our membership of some social or cultural group and disagreeing, distinguishing ourselves from others. Over the course of the last hundred years the vast social changes have resulted in many different groupings asserting their own tastes against others, and these groupings usually have their spokesmen operating in the dissemination and consumption stages. However, some tastes become more powerfully established and influential than others because their audiences have more social or economic, political or cultural power. Examples: • Whereas in the 1930s the audiences for popular music available through the broadcast media of radio, film and the early gramophone industry was treated as basically one thing with differences at the margins, by the 1990s it had fragmented into many different sections, each with its own genre; garage, grunge, house, R&B, neo-punk, easy-listening, smooth-jazz, acid-jazz, world music etc. Examples of the BBC’s current radio station logos
• Contemporary market strategists work with the idea of clearly stratified markets, whether defined in terms of age (the ‘grey pound’), social class (A1s), sexual orientation (‘the pink pound’) or specialist interest (extreme sports). • In a witty chapter ‘The Bottom Line on Planet One: Squaring up to The Face’ in his book Hiding in the Light, Dick Hebdige discusses the ironies of the situation in asking why Graphic Design students were much more interested in reading The Face magazine than the specialist graphic magazine Octavo published by the small, London-based design agency 2vo, during the 1980s.
Published on Nov 1, 2010