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early 20 th century modernism

Wuhang Lin GR 615_History of Graphic Design_Mon. 3:30

Early 20 th Century Modernism


Futurism a Modernist movement in the early 20th Century called on a typography revolution, sound poet, architecture, influenced the other Modernist movement Dada influenced by the Futurism, very socially and politically involved, anti-war, anti-art, anti-bourgeois, anti-Nazi, photomontage Constructivism Russian based Modernist movement influenced by Futurism, abstract paintings, had impact on the Bauhaus De stijl Modernist movement originated in Netherland, inspired by Futurism, abstract painting with mainly horizontal and vertical lines applied with primary colors and neutral colors, none-emotion related, had impact on the Bauhaus The Bauhaus influenced by Constructivism and De stijl, called for an unity between fine art and applied art


Introduction9 Futurism11 Dada13 Constructivism15 De stijl


The Bauhaus


Conclusion21 Bibliography22 Images source



The twentieth century started with a turbulence and radically altered all aspects of humanity, from social and political to cultural and character of life, all was caught in fluid upheaval. Visual art and design experienced a series of creative revolutions. The traditional objective view of the world was shattered. Elemental ideas about color and form were redefined. Artists were influenced by Social protests, Freudian theories and deep inward emotions of the times. All kinds of Modern movements began to appear, many new “ism�s emerged on the stage of twentieth-century graphic design. Futurism, Dada, constructivism, De stijl and the Bauhaus were influencing the graphic language of form and visual communication. At the turn of the twentieth century, the machine had altered the familiar look of things. To crush the old visual language and create a new one was the professed aim of the Modernist artist. They expressed their aims through abstract painting, functional architecture, and asymmetrical typography. The classical symmetrical arrangements erupted into Futurist and Dadaist typographic collage images, then evolved into the revolutionary asymmetrical New Typography.


10-1. Voice poetry from the collection Zang Tumb Tumb, F.T. Marinetti, 1919

10-2. Voice poetry from the collection Zang Tumb Tumb, F.T. Marinetti, 1919

10-3. Book cover of Zang Tumb Tumb



Futurism was launched by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944) in 1901, when he published his Manifesto of Futurism in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro. It said goodbye to the past, and was a celebration of speed, machinery, technology, industry, violence and youth. Futurism was considered the first movement that raised the Modernist banner on an international platform. The Futurists published their ideas, using dynamic bold typography, pulling the typographic design into the artistic battlefield. They called for a typographic revolution against the classical tradition. Harmony was rejected as a design quality because it contradicted their radical ideas. Noise and speed, two dominant conditions of twentieth-century life, were expressed in futurist poetry. They believe that the’ expressive power of words could be redoubled by bold and noisy typeface setting. Zang Tumb Tumb was a sound poet collection of Marinetti. Throughout the whole book, types were designed in all kinds of settings, radiation, spiral, strong hierarchy. Futurists were trying to visualize sound by typography. Since the age of the Gutenberg, most graphic designs used a vigorous horizontal and vertical structure, but the futurist poets divorced from this tradition. They animated their pages with a dynamic, nonlinear composition achieved by pasting words and letters in place for reproduction from photo engraved printing plates. Futurism had a great impact on typographic designers, Paul Renner (1878–1956), who designed Futura, being one of them. Futura is a geometric sansserif typeface designed in 1927 and named after Futurism. Its geometric shapes became representative of visual elements of the Bauhaus design style during the years of 1919–1933. The Futurist architecture is also noteworthy. It was characterized by anti-historicism, strong chromaticism, and tall, long dynamic lines suggesting speed, motion, urgency. The manifesto of Futurist Architecture was

written by Antonio Sant’Elia (1888–1916), who expressed his ideas of modernity in his drawing for La Città Nuova (The New City) in 1914. He called for construction based on technology and science. He detested decoration and used dynamic diagonal and elliptic lines,which could express emotional power better than horizontals and verticals. He was killed in the war and his Futurist projects were never built. But his ideas and visionary drawings inspired the course of modern design, particularly art deco. Even today, his drawings of Futurist buildings express a feeling of high-tech and mystic. Futurism became a major influence on other art movements, and its violent, revolutionary techniques were adopted by the Dadaists, Constructivists and De stijl, and eventually, the Bauhaus. These latter modernist movements were launched on the history stage almost at the same time, and they influenced each other as well.

11-1. House with external elevators (1914). Antonio Sant’Elia


12-1. Hannah Hรถch - Da Dandy, 1919, photomontage/collage, 30x23cm



Influenced by Futurism, Dada was a major liberating movement that continued to inspire innovation and rebellion. It was an art movement that was born out of negative reactions against the horrors of World War I and was very destructive. Based in Zurich and Berlin, Dada was a form of protest; in addition to being anti-war, it was also anti-art and bourgeois. Dadaists rejected reason and logic, and prized nonsense, irrationality and intuition, scorning the idea that art was the highest form of human expression and rejecting all theory and most types of organization.

As the only permanent female member of Dada, Hannah Hoch (1889–1978) was not as radical as the men, nor as politically involved as them. However, she was ignited by some of the male members on purpose. Therefore, her work appeared to have a feminism connection. She references the hypocrisy of the Berlin Dada group and German society as a whole in one of her photomontage, Da-Dandy. As a member of Dada, Hoch had a true spirit of rebellion. She ignored the Nazi’s requirement and stayed in Berlin all through the Nazi reign. However, Dada existed only a short time, basically from 1916 to 1923. After 1922, with Germany in social, political, and economic chaos, many of Dada’s main features moved toward Surrealism, Constructivism.

The Berlin Dada was mostly politically involved. John Heartfield (1891–1968) was a pioneer in the use of art as a political weapon. He turned Dada into a sharp weapon of attack against both the old and new ruling orders. In 1917, Heartfield with his brother Wieland Herzfelde (1896–1988) and life long friend George Grosz (1893–1968) founded a publish house, the Malik Verlag, in order to publish Communist periodicals, manifestos, and portfolios as well as social related low-priced novels. He was famous for his anti-Nazi statement applied by photomontage. Because his statement was so radical toward the up-rising Nazi, he had to run for life to Prague. There he published his anti-Nazi photomontage through the weekly AIZ (Arbeiter illustrierte Zeitung for Workers Illustrated Newspaper). When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, John had to run to England. Inspired by Cubism and Futurism, Dadaist graphic style combined the random methods of Cubist and Futurist, with the efficiency and economy of mechanicalreproduction techniques. In this way they could spread their statements and at the same time built up their distinct style. Layouts by Dada focused on the contrast between a page of type and a single word stamped across it like a slogan, or on words boldly isolated as in cheap posters and advertisements—all as far removed as possible from elegance and good taste. Compared with the shapecomposition and geometric ordered layout of Futurist style, chaos might be the right word for Dada style, which perfectly expressed their statement toward society.

13-1. As were the Middle is the Third Reich, AIZ, May 1934 13

14-1. Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge, by El Lissitzky, 1920.



Constructivism was a post-World War I development of Russian Futurism. Before that, there were several Russian artistic experiments, such as Cubo-Futurism and Suprematism, which were all influenced by the Cubism and Futurism. Then Vladimir Tatlin developed Constructivism, which became an early Soviet youth movement. The Constructivist tried to create works that would make the viewer an active viewer of the artwork. They presented compelling visual images by applying abstract shapes of color into their design, combining dramatic typesetting and photo collage.

in Berlin. Lissitzky, with the Dadaist Hans Arp, edited one of the most influential book designs of the 1920s, The Isms of Art 1914-1924. He applied asymmetrical balance, silhouette halftones, bold large sans-serif numbers, and a skillful use of white space into the book design. The text pages were divided into three columns separated by black bold rulers, which still appear modern and bold today. Lissitzky’s Berlin period enabled him to spread the constructivist message through frequent Bauhaus visits.

Accelerated by the Russian revolution, Constructivism was also politically involved. They turned their energies to a massive propaganda effort in support of the revolutionaries. While some artists argued that art must remain an essentially spiritual activity apart from the social or political role, most artists renounced “art for art’s sake” and devoted themselves to industrial design, visual communications and applied arts serving the new communist society. Constructivists called for the artists to take the social responsibility, to turn useless paintings to posters, brochures. One of the important constructivists was El Lissitzky (1890–1941), a painter, architect, graphic designer and photographer. Lissitzky saw the October 1917 Russian Revolution as a new beginning for mankind. He felt the obligation to produce art work in the service of society. Beat the White with the Red was one of his remarkable poster designs. He symbolized the color and shape to represent different social forces—The Bolshevik army emblem, a wedge-shaped red color, slashing diagonally into a white sphere, signifying “white” force. In 1921, he the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, working with the influencing figures of the Dada, De stijl and the Bauhaus movements during his stay

14-1. A Proun .1925. by El Lissitzky


16-1. Piet Monderian 21



De Stijl, means The Style, was defined as “unity in Plurality”. It was not a group in the usual sense, but was used to refer to a body of work in certain style from 1917 to 1931 founded in the Netherlands. De Stijl was not merely about the stylization of things, its design was based on the rectangle and the use of black, white, gray, and the primary colors. And most of time, design that were emotionally evoking was not welcome.

so radical that neighbors would threw stones to them. They were so ahead of their age and still appear modern nowaday. Dada, Constructivism and De stijl were launched about the same time and were inspired by Cubism and Futurism. Their group members moved between the main cities in Europe and influenced each other. It was said that the Dada destroyed the old world and De Stijl created a new one. Some of the artists from these three group were gathered in the Bauhau faculty and their philosophies had great impact on the Bauhau school

Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) was the most known one, especially for his paintings. Mondrian first was influenced by Cubism when he was in Paris, and he eliminated all representative elements from his creation and moved cubism toward a purely geometric abstraction. Then he moved back the Holland after the war broke out in 1914, and there he was inspired by the philosopher M.H.J. Schoenmakers (1875–1944), who formulated the plastic and philosophical principles of the De Stijl movement. Schoenmakers defined the horizontal and the vertical as the two fundamental opposites shaping our world, and called red, yellow, and blue the three principal colors. Mondrian began to paint purely abstract painting composed of horizontal and vertical lines, with the principal colors filled in between. Piet Mondrian’s painting shaped De Stijl philosophy and visual forms. De Stijl designers reduced their visual vocabulary to the use of primary colors with neutrals (black, gray and white), straight horizontal and vertical lines, and flat planes limited to rectangles and squares. Noteworthy, the using of primary colors, red, yellow and blue, was first applied in the interior color scheme of the Crystal palace in 1851, and it would be used later by the Bauhaus. Also De Stijl architecture was to influence the Bauhaus in the later years.

17-1.Rietveld Schröder House

De Stijl architectures were perfectly matched the formulation of its painting style. Planes were constructed in space with dynamic asymmetrical relationships. Horizontal and vertical Linear dominated the whol create a visual hierarchy, decorated with the primary color here and there. De Stijl architectures appeared

17-2.Rietveld Schröder House


18-1. The Bauhaus building

18-2. The Bauhaus building 18


In 1896, German culture ambassador, Hermann Muthesius (1861–1927), was sent to England to investigate the residential architecture and local lifestyle and design. He returned to Germany after 6 years and founded the Deutscher Werkbund in 1907, aimed to reform the method and quality of the German design. It was shut down when the war broke out.The youngest member of the Werkbund, Walter Gropius had to serve in the army. After the war ended in November 1918, Gropius returned to Berlin and was appointed director of the Academy of Fine Arts. As director, he changed the school into the Bauhaus school. The Bauhaus emphasized craftsmanship and unity between artist and craftsman. In its Manifesto, it called for artists to conceive and create the new buildings of the future, embracing architecture, sculpture and painting as one. Gropius was proudly anti-academic; his teachers were called “masters” and his students “apprentices” and “journeymen” to signify that the school was working in the real world. The Bauhaus did not have studios, instead they were called “workshops” and provided the basis for Bauhaus teaching, in which craftsmen and fine artists would introduce students to the mysteries of creativity and help them to achieve a formal language of their own. The Bauhaus “masters” were from different countries, belonging to different artistic groups and movements. Thus, at the beginning there was no official Bauhaus style. Instead, various Bauhaus projects were influenced by Dada, Constructivism and De Stijl. Meanwhile, Gropius believed that the Bauhaus should avoid any particular style so that students would have the opportunity to develop their individual style. The Bauhaus tried to avoid the strictly defined geometric, impersonal style that influenced by De Stijl. When Theo van Doesburg from De Stijl came to teach at the Bauhaus, he encouraged Gropius to move in the direction of a more avant-garde Constructivism. Later, the Hungarian painter and designer Laszlo MoholyNagy arrived; he furthered the interest in typography, printing and photography and strengthened the 19

Constructivist faction. When the Bauhaus was forced to move to Dessau, Gropius modified the curriculum and established a typography workshop under Herbert Bayer, who used to be a Bauhaus student under Moholy-Nagy. Bayer designed the sans-serif typeface Universal, which rejected all capital letters, defining the Bauhaus aesthetic. However, they did not admit the existence of a Bauhaus style, because they focused on functional requisites rather than a definition of certain style. The Bauhaus designs were associated with anything geometric, functional and modern and the essential features were order, asymmetry, and a basic rectangular grid structure. Decoration was restrained to the use of heavy rules, circles and rectangles of type metal. Photography and montage replaced realistic drawing as illustration. Rather than conforming to a style, Bauhaus objects may be more properly described as having fitness of purpose. In Dessau, the Bauhaus became well known to the general public. To solve the financial problem, Bauhaus people lived self-dependent lives. Students were working in Gropius’ workshops, helping him design and construct. They designed pottery and textiles for sale. Gropius’s single-minded pursuit of a machine-based art permeated throughout the whole operation of the school. The Bauhaus was forced to close due to pressure from the Nazis, and Bauhaus members left Germany. Most of them, such as Gropius and Moholy-Nagy, immigrated to the Unites States. Moholy-Nagy built another Bauhaus base in Chicago, which now is the Illinois Institute of Technology. And the Bauhaus idea was spread to the world, influencing a whole generation.

18-1. Furniture designed by Walter Gropius

20-1. Masters of the Bauhaus, belong to different modern movement.



The modern movements at the turn of the twentieth century were reflections of social circumstances. They were introspection evoking, pushing artists to move forward and still have a great impact on their day. However, the technological development was faster than any age before. We live in a high-tech transition every day, so be transformed by the renewing of our mind and be ready to move on.



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Images Source

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Early 20th century Modernism