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Designed Contradictions

From: mcbride3-AT-texoma.net
Date: 10 Aug 2001 19:49:14 UTC   (03:49:14 PM in author's locale)
To: graphics-AT-lists.graphicslist.org
This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education
(chronicle.com) was forwarded to you from: mcbride3-AT-texoma.net


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rick mcbride


From the issue dated August 10, 2001

Designed Contradictions

"Thymipin forte" (Thymipin Forte nasal drops), 1935
(advertisement), designed by Herbert Bayer (1900-85)

German graphic and typographic design in the first half of the
20th century represents an extraordinarily rich and diverse
aspect of the history of visual culture. It marks the moment
of recognition that the world was becoming increasingly
dependent on a modern and commercialized system of
communication in which the designer was to play a major role.
An unprecedented scale of attention was devoted to printed
matter, whether as designs for graphic ornament, typefaces and
logos in books and advertisements, or magazines, posters,
signage, and exhibitions. ...

There were many good reasons for Germany to lead in the field
of print culture. Historically it was a country that had been
associated since the Middle Ages with the arts of the book and
printing, and many of the new design developments in the 20th
century grew from that base. The industrialization of printing
in the 19th century and the advent of mass circulation -- in
the form of advertising, books, magazines, and packaging --
separated the activity of designing from its base in the
crafts. ...

Many designers sought to raise the standards of printed
culture by integrating experimental ideas from avant-garde
art. ... At a later stage, the new typography and the new
photography recognized the power of abstract composition and
new forms of juxtaposition in experimental photomontage to
provide a graphic language. ...

Throughout the period, great concern was expressed in the more
polemical design literature as to how national and
international tendencies could be embodied in specific
examples of design. Lobbies were formed on behalf of
particular points of view, whether for typefaces, posters, or
publications. During the Nazi period, however, extreme
tensions regarding design as a "national" culture surfaced,
and legislation was put in place to control it. But there were
inherent contradictions in these policies.

A great deal of debate was devoted to where graphic design
stood in relation to other arts and business practices. Was it
indeed art or commerce? Was it moral or immoral? Could it be
national, or were its implications inevitably international?
... Examples from the history of German graphic design
indicate it was all these things. This design depended on its
ability to satisfy the expectations of different contexts, to
be diverse, and, at times, contradictory. To impose a more
consistent interpretation would be to lose the complexity of
graphic design's ambiguous character.

The images are from the exhibition "Print, Power, and
Persuasion: Graphic Design in Germany, 1890-1945," at the Bard
Graduate Center for Studies in theDecorative Arts, Design, and
Culture, in New York, through August 26. The text is by Jeremy
Aynsley, the course director of the history of design at the
Royal College of Art, in London. The text is from his book
Graphic Design in Germany, 1890-1945, published by Thames &
Hudson Ltd., London, and distributedby the University of
California Press. The exhibition was organized by Florida
International University's museum, the Wolfsonian.


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Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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