As a beginning to my process in understanding the field of design, I decided to look back into its history. Although the idea of designing something as appealing to others has been around for aeons, it has not always been seen as art. But when you look at the timeline of art movements, design has both influenced and been influenced by these fluxes. Art Nouveau, with its natural style of architecture and design followed into the particulars of Modernism and Futurism, each with their own distinctive artistic styles and designs. Many of these movements were politically influenced or in retaliation to current zeitgeists.
The members of these movements wanted to provoke their audiences and as such they led to propaganda posters in the same design. World War I was a catalyst for propaganda posters included arguably the most famous, Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam poster, something he later came to regret for the powerful influence it had over young men.
Another movement was Pop Art which is where the lines between commercial design and art blur significantly. Andy Warhol, perhaps one of the best known in this category had previous work as a commercial artist but then applied this to his consumerist works that played upon culture, advertisement and art itself. “Campbell’s Soup Can’s” (1962) is one such example, a bold and simple design that commented on the state of culture. The work was made through silk printing which is important to note as earlier design was for the majority silk screening, printmaking, painting and drawing and in some cases, distribution.
Nowadays, design is seen as something quite strictly digital. Although this isn’t always the case, digitising design has made it far easier and more efficient for the commercial aspect. My skills are with working on a computer in different programs, I may be able to sketch out ideas and mock drafts but to fully realise my idea I find it easier to create it digitally.
A modern designer who I quite admire and who’s work I think correlates well with what I hope to achieve is Paula Scher. Scher has worked both commercially and has her own personal art practice. She began by working with different labels in album artwork creation and has penned a number of iconic designs. She left this world and began more typographical work. She has designed some iconic designs including Citi Bank, CNN, Microsoft 8, Sundance Institute and the New York City Ballet. One of my favourites is her design of the Public Theatre. All of these are simple but iconic and you can tell the thought that has gone into the detail and meaning of each piece, and how the public will consume this. Her poster design for the Public Theatre as well has been important to the company’s identity.
Much of her work fits into the art deco and Russian Constructivism. This in particular can be seen in her personal project, “Maps” is a collection of painted typographic maps across a number of years since the 90s. Based all over the world each map depicts political and societal connections as well as visualising data. The bright, intense almost ‘fun’ style of these painting’s make these overwhelming amounts of data approachable to an audience. They’re both factual and yet incorrect proportions at the same time and I think they are trying to indicate a view on current culture and how the world functions.
Paula Scher’s work is of particular influence to me as I enjoy both her commercial and artistic directions. The use of data in art making is something that really appeals to me and I believe it’s something I want to play with in my own creative works. Design is a sort of communication, trying to depict a message, much the same as art. Communication as a summary is who said what and to whom followed by the effect this had. I believe it is in this ‘effect’ that design and art become intertwined and that design done well can and should be considered art. It is trying to reach that point which I think will be my greatest struggle.