Contemporary art reveals a direct correlation between the movements of contemporary art and those in contemporary graphic design. Cross-referencing artists from both categories can support this association. The goals of this paper are to present the artists and their work, reviews the similarities of artists between both movements to express their parallels, as well as conclude with the assumption of the next possible movement in graphic design and the promising designers to watch. This will be accomplished through an analysis of the movements in contemporary art and contemporary graphic design.
Contemporary art is best described as art that has been created during our lifetime. It covers many art movements that covers several years reaching from the 1950’s or 60’s through the 90’s as well as art that is being created this very minute. Often many people confuse current art as modern art but that is not true. The modern art movement can to an end sometime in the 1970’s as postmodernism came into existence. When it comes to contemporary graphic design the ideas are a bit more obscure. There are varying concepts among critics of graphic design the exact time period that encompasses the movement. There are several great designers from the turn of the century, which offered much to the profession and created core fundamentals in graphic design. It is also important to note that contemporary graphic design is a movement that was experienced worldwide as visual influences quickly spread around the globe. However, at the same time, the understanding of distinct movements is less clear. A broad sense of contemporary graphic design is perceived as aesthetically improving communication, adding value to a message. While that may be true, there is a deeper value expressed by a select few that contemporary graphic design can be used as a powerful communication tool. One that can allow messages to be accepted, expressed, and shared through the influence of visual interaction.
No single school or style has dominated American art in the latter half of the 20th cent., as artists have sought numerous avenues of individual expression (Columbia, 2011). During the 1950’s contemporary art felt the ideals of abstract expressionists. A well-known artist from this period was Hans Hofmann. Hoffmann, with his abstract art, felt that it allowed him a way to get to, and express, reality. It was the structure that was an important aspect to his art. Although simplicity was the main suggestion in his paintings their foundations interconnected to natural forms found in nature. It was an expression of the three-dimensional space translated to a two dimensional one. Many called this his push-pull theory (Arts and Activities, 2005). Hoffmann was able to break down objects into their humblest shape and form while retaining the beautiful aesthetics of their harmony. He chose a precise harmonic color scheme in his paintings allowing weigh and stability. A purpose for design is to communicate to people in a language that hopefully is recognizable, at the same time fresh. It tempts individuals to appreciate something old in an innovative manner. Or simply put, grasp a new thing in an old way, through visual communication. Hans Hoffmann executed this in his paintings and Saul Bass, a contemporary graphic designer, excelled in the same theory. Bass is well known for his contributions to motion graphics as early as the 1950’s with title sequences for the films Psycho and The Man With The Golden Arm, however he also developed many famous posters which reflect the theories of Hoffman. His crude forms and coherence color choices created known forms to symbolic representations. Early in his career he was influenced by the constructivist theory and the inspiration of the Bauhaus movement. The simplicity in these movements is showcased in many of Bass’s work. In the world of Saul Bass, letters walked, and roses turned to raindrops; analogous correspondence between unrelated objects was a way of life (answers.com, 2011).
The New York School movement often pulled motivation from Surrealism as well as the present avant-garde art movement. Contemporary artist Robert Motherwell also influenced the designs by Saul Bass. Motherwell style that echoes mystery, drama, and simplistic forms are portrayed in the same visual benefits Bass reprocesses in his works. Eventually it was Motherwells ideology that gained the most respect as his career progressed. Motherwell had two extensive series of drawings that he was well known for. Lyric Suite was one of them, a series of 1,000 drawings, which were never completed due to a tragic accident and death of his friend. In this series Motherwell’s goal was to paint impulsively, with a gesture style that carried a feeling of freedom and exhilaration.
Paul Rand, much like Motherwell, enjoyed a prolific career as a graphic designer. It is easy to see the influence of great abstract expressionists such as Robert Motherwell and Hans Hoffman in the designs of Paul Rand. Rand added this to his theory of design, “A mind so disciplined should be both more abstract and more concrete. It has been trained in the comprehension of abstract thought and in the analysis of facts.” (Rand, 1965) In painting from 1945–60 the work of all but the most intensive realists tended increasingly toward abstraction (Columbia, 2011).
Soon after the expressionist movement started the minimalists corralled art into geographic arrangement and vibrant arrangements. More than any other painter, Frank Stella changed the direction of abstract painting. He painted stripes on monochrome surfaces; created huge wall works of interlocking protractor forms in various colors, and made shaped canvases whose contours echo the structure of their support frames. (Pincus, 1987). This new art asserted an overly un-symbolic physicality as opposed to the abstract expressionist idea of the object as a vehicle for dramatic, emotional introspection (Fineberg, 2000). Milton Glaser, best known for the I Love New York logo, his Bob Dylan poster, shows influences of the unpretentious and pragmatic minimalist movement. It was Glaser himself who directly mentions how this minimalist movement veers away from earlier styles. To quote Glaser, “I think that the lack of drama in my life has produced a platform for me to be fundamentally adventurous in my thinking.” Because of his integrity and his vision, he has enabled us all to walk on higher ground, and it is that for which we should be especially grateful (Millman, 2007). Glaser expressed the ideology that one can review the work done in the past and measure the value, its influence, and its beauty as to the work you should do forthcoming. Frank Stella and Milton Glaser jointly thrive on the minimalist notion of simplicity in both content and form, through their art they seek to detach any symbol of individual expression. For the viewer, minimalism allows them to experience art and design without distractions of underlying intent, themes, or messages; giving them the freedom to enjoy the simplicity and form of the art itself in the psychical sense.
Pop Artist Andy Warhol states, “The Pop idea, after all, was that anybody could do anything, so naturally we were all trying to do it all. Nobody wanted to stay in one category; we all wanted to branch out into every creative thing we could.” (Warhol, 1965) The pop culture of the 1960’s had now become mainstream as billboards, commercialism, and flashing lights of Vegas became commonplace. Iconic images and celebrities became household names through commercialism and mass marketing. Art was thus viewed not in the sacred precincts of an art museum, but from a speeding car, racing along a freeway with the radio blaring (Graven, 1994). Popular culture was forcing a partnership with the visual arts—and in doing so on its own terms (Graven, 1994). Graphic Design superstar Paula Scher utilized the philosophy strengths of Pop Art to seize the appreciation of creative individuals. The elementary notion associated with the Pop Art movement was to construct art with the nature of instant significance, which was in an extreme contrast to the scholarly intellect behind the abstract expressionist style.
Post-Minimalism is work, such as art and music, which is expressed by, or challenges to progress — go above and beyond, the aesthetics of minimalism. The post-minimalists Bruce Nauman expresses the idea of this movement in his many sculptures using neon and light. Nauman’s post-minimalist artworks are similar to many artworks of this movement through their everyday objects, their use of simple resources, and often a clean formal visual appearance. An influential designer, and likely one of the most important designers of contemporary design, is Stephan Sagmeister. He may argue the fact that he followed a particular art movement or style; however upon a closer review his style very likely follows the post-minimalist style. Sagmeister had this to say upon the question, please define your style, “For a long time we prided ourselves not to have a style which to uphold became impossible. This is because if you really switch your stylistic approach from project to project it is impossible to come up with a new one on a weekly or monthly basis, without ripping-off either historical styles or a particular designers’ style. Although it would not cover all of our work I would say we are probably best known for our hand-made quality.” (designboom.com, 2006) Much of Sagmeisters work utilizes everyday objects, simple resources, in a clean—although hand-crafted—visual appearance. Today he has returned to natural forms as his inspiration much like those expressed by Hans Hoffman but into the post-minimalist approach.
If anything, Sagmeister may follow the influences of multiple styles. Knowing that Land Art is where the landscape and the work of art are indistinguishably linked and created in nature, using natural materials; classifying select works from Sagmeister into this movement is tough to argue. He has had many installations that could, and perhaps do, fall into the Land Art movement. Land artist Andy Goldsworthy believes his creations are short-lived, not permanent artworks.
His aim is to gain an understanding of nature by straightforwardly joining nature as closely as he possibly can in his pieces. “Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within,” says Goldsworthy (Goldsworthy, 1990). Contemporary environmental graphic designer, Harry Mark, of Redmond Schwartz Mark Design, states that, “One can’t truly experience architectural design through books alone, but must experience it first hand to understand its power.” It is plausible to say that the land art movement has influenced graphic design in the environmental graphic design field. The installments take into account the surrounding landscape, the materials they are created from, there association of the space they inhabit, as well as their aesthetic appeal.
The postmodern movement is a direct reaction and evolution to the modernist movement. The movement suggests that truths are objective and to be suspicious of social theories. Robert Rauschenberg directly communicates these ideals of the postmodern movement. Emotionalism, distortion, the disappearance of symmetry, unnatural or extreme exaggeration, and an unsettling anxiety characterized the anticlassicism that arose in the 16th century. The dissolution of a classical ideal into something “mannered” can be seen today in postmodern mannerism (Kay, 2006). In the same reference as Kay, contemporary graphic design reflects postmodernism as seen in the work of April Greiman and David Carson. Given this conflict between old philosophy and new reality, it’s no surprise that David Carson stands out as a design icon during this period. IN Carsons design layouts you typically find lines of type that bashed into each other and wandered all over the page, and experimental photography and illustration. You’d find no orderly grid keeping page layouts tidy and staid (Clark, 1995).
Taking a quick glance over the Neo-Expressionist movement there is an extreme influence from Jean-Michel Basquiat on the talented graphic designer Ed Fella. The movement developed as a response to abstract art and minimalism. Neo-expressionists revisited the portrayal of recognizable objects in a rough and violently emotional abstract fashion using vivid color or dull color harmonies. Neo-expressionists artists, occasionally called the new wild ones, created an anxious and playful arrangement of objects that communicated disturbance, tension, alienation, and ambiguity in a primeval manner. This form of communication was perfect for social and political issues of the time and they had the social and economic value of the movement intensely debated.
Other fairly current movements similarly influenced contemporary graphic design. The graphic design of Art Chantry can be possibly associated with having been influenced by Kam Tang, a maximalist and contemporary artist, as well as Andy Warhol as a Pop Art inspiration. In a reverse fashion, The New Media art of Kyle Cooper can be said has the inspiration from the great motion graphics designer Saul Bass. Cooper is well known for his motion graphics in modern movie title greats such as Spiderman and Seven. Bass is famous for his contribution to the art in his movie title graphics of Psycho, Oceans Eleven, The Man with the Golden Arm, and many more.
Contemporary street artist, A.K.A. Banksy (Robin Gunningham or Robin Banks are among the possible real names for this artist) directly lead to the success of Contemporary designer Thierry Guetta (A.K.A. Mr. Brainwash) although not a professional or trained graphic artist or designer, his copied style of that of Banksy and his commercialism of his works has lead his design to be prominent displays in numerous visual communication applications. Relational Art seems to be the newest for of the contemporary art movement. Relational art has been defined as a set of artistic practices that take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space. Is this the fresh aspiration needed in graphic design? How can the rationalist theory be exemplified within graphic design?
As an overview, there is often a correlation in graphic design practices that follow contemporary art movements. It is also important to note that these similarities do not have a direct relationship with time, as most movements cannot be placed to an exact time period. However, commenting that the time association between contemporary art movements and contemporary graphic design movements happen within a decade of each other—contemporary art influencing graphic design. Thus, it is a far conclusion to say as new movements in contemporary art are formed, or even investigated; similarities in graphic design will emerge soon after.
Any ambitious graphic designer should afford close attention to contemporary art. The triumphs of contemporary graphic design follow a lengthy lineage of successful designers resulting from the inspirations of the arts surrounding their life experiences.
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