Modernism refers to a period time from roughly the 1860s through the 1970s and describes the ideology of art produced during that era. In general, modernism encompassed art, architecture, literature, social organization, religious faith and even daily life. At the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, it was the revolutionary time. Modernism emphasized on rationality, logic and experimentations. Modernists had a utopian desire to create a better world. They believed in the power and potential of the ‘machine’ and the rapidly development of industrial technology could change the world. Artists felt that if they wanted to capture the changes of the times, the traditions of the past needed to be changed as well. They started thinking of creating something emotional in a different and new way to show their passions for future world. Several movements caused in the early 20th century. Such as Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, De stijl, Suprematism and Constructivism. In the world of commercial art, the late 19th century had seen the development of the artistic poster, as lithography had developed to replace letterpress as the main form of printing. Drawing and paintings could be mass-produced and images as well as text could be used to sell things. Artists like Picasso and Braque began to break down perspective and pull them apart into planes with less shading to create a flatter space. Modern design became the product during the development of modernism. Bauhaus pioneered modern teaching methods and philosophies in relation to design. Students were taught to embrace technology and the growing importance of modern manufacture. The new approach to design became more concerned with functionality, context and content. Design became a logical way of reflecting the relationship in word and images.
In the development of technology, speed and new products inspired the artistic avant-garde influenced artists. American based designer Edward McKnight Kauffer designed the iconic poster ‘Power’ for London’s Underground, which used powerful lines and simple colors united the power of human and machine.
During the WW1, German artists were actively painting about war. In 1912 Edward Ludwig Meidner began a series of ‘Apocalypitc Landscapes’, which anticipated the horrors of the WW1. Using bright colors and sharp lines to illustrate the fires rage, buildings totter on the edge of collapse and some men scream for their lives in one of this series - ‘The Burning City’. Look at the photomontage ‘A Berlin Saying’ made by John Heartfield. He has his own sense of humor to express his view on Hitler and the Nazi party. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was one of the international artists. In order to find a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge between the past and present, he revived older media – woodcut prints. In the book ‘Neben der Heerstrasse’ (Off the Main Road), Kirchner created twenty-two illustrations, the title page and the cover in woodcut technique.
In Italy, Fortunato Depero, especially after the WW1, his work became increasingly abstract like the young artists at that time. The ‘Depero Numeri 5-0’ is a good example of his changing at that point. It was created at the year 1927 when he accomplished “Book Pavilion” which showed his Futurist materials and ideas. The combination of 3 numbers and 3 colors purely created the work. Those two abstract shapes which was made by numbers are more like iron chains and hooks which strongly shows the impact of industrial development for the artists.
Quotes and Citations:
‘The new approach to design: was more concerned with functionality, combined analysis with craft skills, concerned with context and content, honestly reflected the method by which it was made and took advantage of new technology’ (Remington, 2003)
Published widely in magazines and shown in exhibitions, Modernism clearly signified the new and began to make inroads into the mass consumer market and the home. Modernism was readily accepted as a selling tool – in advertising and typographic design, shop display and product design. (Christopher, 2006)
Modernism was based on using rational, logical ways to gain knowledge. They believed in ‘the truth in materials.’ (Aynsley, 2006) Modernist thinking is about the search of an abstract truth of life. They believed in learning from past experiences and trusted the texts that narrate the past. During the modernist era, art works were considered as unique creations of the artists. These works were believed to bear a deep meaning, novels and books predominated society.
‘ For a modern communication system to emerge, an infrastructure of mechanized printing, ink and paper manufacture and specialist machinery for folding, binding and stapling was necessary. This was prompted by a huge change in the pattern of life of urban populations in the late nineteenth century that may be summarized as a collective move to modernity.’ (Aynsley, 2006 P. 12)
Compare to post- modernism, they’re still different. With the onset of computers, media and advancements in technology, television and computers became dominant in society, art works began to be copied and preserved by the means of digital media. People rather believed in deriving their own meanings from pieces of art.
Best defined as commercial Modernism, Art Deco was far from the radical Modernism bred in the hothouses of art & design, but in the post war economic recovery ensued in the twenties manufacturers and merchants loved it. “In this milieu, Art Deco became code for ‘contemporary’. Art Deco graphics signaled progress and suggested the future” (Steven & Seymour, 2008) ‘Meanwhile, product designers made the term ‘modernist’ fashionable for their Art Deco elegances, but defenders of tradition during the first half of the 20th century saw ‘modernistic’ art as indicative of political excess, diseased social values and the insanity of those who made it.’ (Modernism, 2009)
Artist like Ludwig Hohlwein, ‘was the most successful poster designer in Germany during the interwar period. His strong figurative style depended on striking contrasts and silhouettes.’ (Aynsley, 2006 P. 23)
At the early 20th century, art & design can’t live with out politics. Especially in the Berlin group artists. ‘A Berlin Saying’ created by John Heartfield seems one of the best known and revered as a result of his devotion to anti-Nazi political activism. As we can see in this work, two ears were cut and pasted on both sides of the bottom. He used his own sense of humor and had never been afraid to express his views. Much of his best work was for the front cover of the newspaper AIZ (Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung). Heartfield used his own power to spread his political opinion, anti- Nazi.
The first and most famous photomontage (then called combination printing) was created in 1857. Since the chaotic political environment, the high point came during WW1. The artists, who had experienced the war years in Germany desperate to find ways of conveying the madness of this era. At the time of growing modernist ideology, artists enjoyed something of a revival as contemporary artists experiment with new technology. In photomontage, artists analyze raw materials – photos, using craft skills to realize their idea and show what they want to express through the image they created.
Later, computer montage techniques brought photomontage more possibilities than ever. Artists can physically cut & paste, scan in computer, edit with computer software such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photopaint, Pixelmator and so on. Print it out and cut & paste again. Whatever how the technology developed, artists can always take advantage of finding the new way in creating photomontages.
‘The invention of the camera changed the way men saw.’ And ‘The invention of the camera also changed the way in which men saw paintings painted long before the camera was invented.’ (Berger, 1972 PP 18-19) With the invention of camera and computer science, the argument about the survival problem in classical realist visual arts has never stopped. But as a part of illustration or fine art, ‘photomontage’ never stopped improving itself. It’s just like the spirit of modernism.
The world is changing rapidly, the way we see the world need to change as well. Artists are the people who have passions to express how they look at the world. Just like photomontage, we’re making collages in creating artworks. So much information appears as images all around us. We combine any technique, which can be perfectly realized artworks. The definition of photomontage is no longer important. But the spirit of modernism has been passed on and carried by photomontage.
Jeremy, Aynsley (2004) Pioneers of Modern Graphic Design – A Complete History. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.
Heller, Steven & Chwast, Seymour (2008) Illustration, a Visual History. New York: Abrams
R. Roger, Remington (2003) American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920 – 1960. Yale University Press
John, Berger (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: penguin
Christopher, Wilk (2006) The Exhibition.
Modernism (2009) From Grove Art Online, 2009 Oxford University Press.
Why modernist studies and science studies need each other (2002) Modernism / Modernity, ISSN 10716068, Nov 2002, P 8
Power – The Nerve Centre of London’s Underground
Designer: E. McKnight Kauffer
Printer: Vincent Brooks, Day & Son, Ltd., London. 1930
Lithograph, 40 5/8 * 24 ¾ (103.2 * 62.9 cm).
The collection from MoMA
The Burning City, 1913
A Berlin Saying, Undated
Cover illustration by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Book by Jakob Bosshart. 1923. Woodcut from an illustrated book with twenty-four woodcuts, composition: 3 1/8 x 4 9/16" (8 x 11.6 cm); cover: 7 13/16 x 5 7/16" (19.8 x 13.8 cm). Paper: Brown, smooth, wove. Publisher: Verlag von Grethlein & Co., Zürich/Leipzig. Printer: E. Haberland, Leipzig, Germany. Edition: unknown; plus special edition of 120. Gift of G. David Thompson
Depero Numeri 5-0
Fortunato Depero, 1927; - Courtesy Studio, Rovereto, Italy