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Focussing on specific examples describe the way that modernist art & design was a response to the forces of modernity. The term modern was first defined in early 16th Century signifying “present or recent times”, by the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century, the term evolved into the meaning of something ‘improved’, thus implying positive values. This then links the idea of ‘modern’ to the perception of progress. Symbolic changes that occurred broadly between 1750-1950 were the ramifications of the powerful processes of industrialisation and urbanisation which can be placed parallel with modernisation. Modernity can be distinguished from modernism in that modernity refers to new technologies and modern world experiences, where as modernism relates to a ‘set of aesthetic movements that emerged in Europe in the 1880s’ (Barnard 2005: 112). Indicative features of modernity were new modes of transportation, media, materials and sources of power and energy. European cities had become a kaleidoscopic collage of sights and sounds for travelers and dwellers that were previously living separate lives. Communications flourished with the arrival of rapid transport systems changing the character of society, and improving the mobility of printed image. Therefore modernism is the name given to the art consequent to the forces of modernity and destruction of traditional notions of individual characters. Having said that, Chris Rodrigues writes in his book Introducing Modernism (2004: 28) that it seems modernism simultaneously celebrates, resists and even rejects modernity. As a result modernism isn’t simply a knee-jerk reaction to modernity, and that modernism can be seen as a complex and contradictory response to the forces of modernity. Germany during the 1920’s was at the center of a whole range of exuberant avant-garde art movements, an incredibly important period within european art. Berlin became an artistic center where artists went to exchange ideas. During this era German art portrayed a great response of creativity, experimentation, innovation and diversity. In May 1928 Germany’s fourth-largest city of Cologne hosted Pressa (International Press Exhibition), “the exhibition was organised to emphasise Cologne’s importance as a major commercial and cultural centre and to stress German pre-eminence in printing and typography” (Jobling and Crowley 1996: 138). The avant-garde art movement refers to works of creative people that was experimental or innovative. The avant-garde artists had a new way of looking at the world meaning they would push the boundaries of the norm to experiment with new ideas. They almost had a scientific view towards research, in that their investigations usual didn't have any purpose but rather producing art and seeing if it Priyesh Desai


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worked. However, by the mid 1920s a new style known as Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity had emerged. The harsh conditions of life in postwar Germany and experiencing the atrocities of World War I, left many artists feeling the need to return to traditional modes of representation. Portraiture became a major force of this expression, with emphasis on realistic representation of the human figure. Modernism can be seen as quite similar to various pre-modern realisms and naturalisms, however there are key features that modernists believe should be portrayed and reproduced in their work. The artists and designers believe it was important to thematise the practice of art and design by using shape, line, colour and form. They also believe in constructing work that has been edited and put together using previously unrelated items. Another feature of modernism is the ambiguity and uncertainty of their work, resulting in the absence of a clear meaning or the presence of many contradictory meanings. Modernism was an attempt to convey things that had not been represented before and improve the understanding of reality. Despite this, the complexity of modernism can be narrowed down to two main themes for graphic design. The first being the refusal of beautification and the preference of clean and simple graphics in the interest of the function the design is to perform. This is partly due to ornamentation rapidly changing in trends and going in and out of style. “Adolf Loos (1870-1933), in his Ornament and Crime (1908), voiced the essence of architectural modernism: he equated decoration with criminality” (Rodrigues 2004: 34). American architect Louis Sullivan dubbed as ‘father of modernism’ believed that ‘form follows function’, although talking about architecture the principles can be applied to graphic design. The second belief is that modernism is about progress and improvement due to the new boundless technologies, and essentially a utopian impulse. Massimo Vignelli wrote an essay entitled Long Live Modernism! (1994: 51) in which he states modernism as a responsibility to combat industrialisation and improve the world. Therefore meaning Modernist graphic design questions traditional ways as well as creating visual problems to be solved by the forces of modernity in terms of new technology in production, representation and communication.

The Bauhaus was a revolutionary school of architecture and design founded in a small provincial town in Germany at a moment of political unrest and economic chaos. The Bauhaus was the focal point of many revolutionary avant-garde ideas of the 1920s. The forces of modernity generated many new ideas, and at the time there was simply no other Priyesh Desai


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art school anywhere in Europe which put them into practice so fully. By doing so the Bauhaus achieved something quite different from all the other art schools and technical colleges. Essentially it tried to find a way of dealing with life on an aesthetic level. Walter Gropius who whilst serving as in officer during World War I dreamt about a school of art & design that would help change the world. This dream came true in 1919 when the German architect founded the Bauhaus school. The revolutionary tone of the manifesto echoed the spirit of the times, helping inspire the soviet revolution and German mutinies to end the Great War. Gropius was not alone in his utopian aspirations, his school was supported by public funds. Once established Walter Gropius realised closer links had to be forged between the machine and the artistic individuals. So he organised workshops which trained people in two ways, as artists and as craftsman. Students were known as apprentices at the Bauhaus, they acquired their skills not by designing on paper but actually making things in the workshops which provided the backbone to the school. In 1925, the Bauhaus was forced to close in Weimar because of its perceived cultural. Later that year, The Bauhaus relocated to Dessau were money was available to construct a huge school building that Gropius had designed. The forces of modernity meant that advances construction techniques and new materials were available resulting in it taking little more than a year to build in glass, steel and concrete. The new site had everything under one roof, the workshops, offices, canteen and student flats (Fig 1). The new building was one of the first in Europe to express the hunger for functionality and simplicity. The crystalline, clean and commendable building was a perfect example of constructivism. Filled with light, uncluttered somehow severe and clinical the Bauhaus did not look like an art school. The furniture and fittings for the new building were all designed and manufactured in the workshops at the Bauhaus. They were elegantly plain, intensely rational and made by machines in new materials. Demand for new methods and materials increased to live up to the expectations of the modern life. In furniture design metal replaced wood, screws, glue and dovetail jointed were superseded by welding. Chairs that were intended for small functional interiors of modern life followed the principles of engineering rather than that of aesthetics. They were inspired not by the bulky decorative furniture of the past but by cars, airplanes and racing bicycles. New mediums such as photography was exploited as a means of visual communication, and not only as an art form. Experiments were made with photo montage, double exposures and overprinting. Typography and graphic design made commanding statements, simple, bold and devoid from every kind of decoration, even serifs were banned. Typefaces and layouts were Priyesh Desai


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rethought in terms of optics and communication theory. All this because of the forces of modernity. The Bauhaus ran between 1919 and 1933, during this time a vast amount of aesthetic and political work was produced within the modernist fold. The name Bauhaus was derived from two German words meaning ‘to build’ and ‘house’ and “indicates the twin desires to learn from the past and to serve the future by adapting and updating the medieval German tradition of the bauhutte, with its apprentice-journeyman-master structure” (Barnard 2005: 124). During the time in Weimar, the Bauhaus was strongly visionary and utopian. All forms of communication at the Bauhaus was intended to help improve humanity and society. Furniture design, textile design, architectural design, product design and graphic design all contributed to this utopian vision. For example, Herbert Bayer’s recommendation of a universal typeface is a good example of this. In 1926 Bayer created a typeface called Universal containing only lowercase letters, made up of circles and straight lines, and of constant thickness (Fig 2). Malcolm Barnard writes in his book Graphic Design as communication “In his 1935 essay ‘Towards a Universal Type’, Bayer (1999) explains what he thinks is wrong with contemporary typefaces and what should be done to correct them. He begins with an account of modernity, nothing that ‘today’ we do not build Gothic buildings, travel on horseback or wear crinolines; we construct ‘contemporary’ buildings, travel in cars and planes and dress more ‘rationally’”. Thus implying we should not be using old-fashioned typeface, because due to the forces of modernity everything we read today is either written with a typewriter or printed, meaning there is no need for typefaces to have serifs or thick and thin lines. Herbert Bayer also claimed more objective typeface that contained no uppercase letters would be less of a burden for students, professionals and everyday people. It would be easier for children in education to learn to read and write, as well as writing quicker due to the omission of capital letters. “Universal, then, is modern in that, begin geometrically constructed no bearing the marks of handmade script, it s more suited to contemporary mechanical reproduction. It is also modern in that adopting it would have educational and communicational benefits; it would help children to learn to write and professionals could communicate more efficiently” (Barnard 2005: 125). Being accustomed to gothic and black-letter typefaces, Universal was unpopular with the German public at the time. The typeface did not incorporate uppercase letters which are more widespread in German, resulting in it being unsuccessful. Ring members “tended to favour Futura, a geometric, Priyesh Desai


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sans serif typeface designed by Paul Renner and issued by the Bauer type-foundry between 1927 and 1930 in an extensive range of weights and sizes that could be used as both a book face and for displays” (Jobling and Crowley 1996: 140) During the International Press Exhibition, Russian avant-garde artist El Lissitzky portrayed a very contemporary exhibition space. “all the possibilities of a new exhibition technique were explored: in place of a tedious succession of framework, containing dull statistics, he produced a new, purely visual design of the exhibition space and its contents, by the use of glass, mirrors, celluloid, nickel and other materials” (Jobling and Crowley 1996: 138). Jobling and Crowley also went on to say in their book Graphic Design: reproduction and representation since 1800 that “El Lissitzky’s exhibition pavilion was a graphic environment in which Soviet ideology, channelled by designers who had emerged from the avant-garde, was powerfully express through astonishing typographic, photographic and symbolic devices”. Designers such as Jan Tschichold and El Lissitzky enabled visitors of the International Press Exhibition to compare their practice of design to the more traditional. “The impact of their displays was not simply a matter of aesthetic and technical novelty... New styles of graphic design seemed to have much to offer business as a signifier of modernity and as a powerfully affective mode of address” (Jobling and Crowley 1996: 138). Another avant-garde movement known as cubism started to change the perception of form and space. El Lissitzky gained a new sense of political purpose due to the Russian Revolution, as a consequence reassessing representation and production, as well as questioning modernism. “At the same time in Germany the term modernismus became current as a way of summing up two chief tendencies in artistic production: on the one hand it referred to an aesthetic form of Modernism such as Expressionism; and on the other, it referred to avant-garde groups such as the Dadaists, who espoused industrial culture, including the mass media, modern technology and urbanism”(Jobling and Crowley 1996: 139). During the 1920s an exploration into the nature of photographic image was taking place which created huge enthusiasm for the camera, resulting in some modernist designers preferring photographic illustrations to hand-rendered processes. Moholy-Nagy stated that the camera offered unique ways of ‘making visible’ and was particularly interested in the experimental forms it allowed such as photomontage and photogram. “El Lissitzky, working for the German ink manufacturer Pelikan, produced some highly inventive advertisements for the company utilised the shadow of the company’s bottled product, a pen and Priyesh Desai


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silhouetted lettering to great effect”(Jobling and Crowley 1996: 141). El Lissitzsky’s ‘TINTE’ (Fig 3) could be defined as aesthetically self-reflexive, which refers to the idea of the attention to the medium used by the designer in their work. For example, you are able to see a pen, a bottle of ink and the words ‘Pelikan’ and ‘TINTE’. Using the method of photogram, the advert has been produced using ink on photographic paper, which then has been exposed to light from the left, combined with a stenciling of the word ‘TINTE’. The left-hand side of the pen and bottle is sharp, in contrast to the right-hand side where it is blurred and consequently cast a shadow. As the word ‘TINTE’ has been done using a flat stencil, this casts no shadow. “The process by which the advertisement has been made can be ‘seen’ in the image: the image announces itself visually as a product of certain photographic techniques” (Barnard 2005: 116). This is a prime example of the forces of modernity influencing modernist art and design in the early 19th Century, iconic designs such as ‘Pelikan TINTE’ by El Lizzitsky would not have been possible otherwise. “Graphic design would, in Moholy-Nagy’s words, be ‘part of the foundation on which the new world will be built’” As a result, It can be said that “modernity was not simply a matter of contemporaneity - it was a ‘project’” (Jobling and Crowley 1996: 144). The examples I have chosen from 1750 to 1950, coined as ‘the modernist era’ reflect this opinion in terms of there being significant affects on modernist art and design due to the forces of modernity. The new modes of transportation, media, materials and sources of power and energy created a utopian outlook for designers as they were able to experiment with a wider range of more efficient resources. These explorations became very influential and caused a momentous movement within art and design, which we know as modernism. Modern technology help derive Dutch designer, Paul Schuitema’s ‘essential values’ and principles of design as he said, ‘It is the utilisation of potentialities offered by the machine that is characteristic of and, in terms of evolution, authoritative for the techniques of our present-day works. Thus, printed matter today will have to correspond to the most modern machines: that is, it must be based on clarity, conciseness and precision’” (Jobling and Crowley 1996: 144). Although some may argue the links between modernity and modernism are contradictory, there is much more significant evidence that the two happened almost parallel with each other.

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Bibliography Books Jobling, P. and Crowley, D. (1996) Graphic Design: reproduction and representation since 1800. Manchester, Manchester University Press. Barnard, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Oxon, Routledge. Rodrigues, C. (2004) Introducing Modernism. Royston, Icon Books Ltd. Hughes, R. (1991) The Shock Of The New: art and the century of change. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. Videos DxExNxNxIxS. 2010. Bauhaus Documentary (1) [Online]. Available at: http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZOqTFtEHAw [Accessed 27 January 2013] Images [Gropius: Bauhaus, Dessau, 1925-26] n.d. [image online] Available at: <http://www.bc.edu/ bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/fa267/gropius.html> [Accessed 31 January 2013] [ABayer] 2007. [image online] Available at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ABayer.png> [Accessed 31 January 2013] [Pelikan Tinte, photomontage] n.d [image online] Available at: http://www.mutualart.com/ Artwork/Pelikan-Tinte--photomontage/3A28475D1A1B3AB0

Priyesh Desai

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