The International Typographic Style
After World War II, designers in Switzerland and Germany codified Modernist graphic design into a cohesive movement called Swiss Design, or the International Typographic Style. These designers sought a neutral and objective approach that emphasized rational planning and de-emphasized the subjective, or individual, expression. They constructed modular grids of horizontal and vertical lines and used them as a structure to regularize and align the elements in their designs. These designers preferred photography (another technical advance that drove the development of graphic design) as a source for imagery because of its machine-made precision and its ability to make an unbiased record of the subject. They created asymmetrical layouts, and they embraced the prewar designers’ preference for sans-serif typefaces. The elemental forms of the style possessed harmony and clarity, and adherents considered these forms to be an appropriate expression of the postwar scientific and technological age.
Josef Müller-Brockmann was a leading designer, educator, and writer who helped define this style. His poster, publication, and advertising designs are paradigms of the movement. In a long series of Zürich concert posters, Müller-Brockmann used colour, an arrangement of elemental geometric forms, and type to express the structural and rhythmic qualities of music. A 1955 poster for a concert featuring music by Igor Stravinsky, Wolfgang Fortner, and Alban Berg demonstrates these properties, along with Müller-Brockmann’s belief that using one typeface in two sizes (display and text) makes the message clear and accessible to the audience.
The programmatic uniformity of this movement would be widely adopted by designers working in the area of visual identity systems during the second half of the 20th century. Multinational corporations soon adopted the tenets of the International Typographic Style: namely, the standardized use of trademarks, colours, and typefaces; the use of consistent grid formats for signs and publications; the preference for the contemporary ambience of sans-serif types; and the banishment of ornament.
Postwar graphic design in the United States
While designers in Europe were forging the International Typographic Style into a cohesive movement, American designers were synthesizing concepts from modern art into highly individualistic and expressive visual statements. From the 1940s through the 1960s, New York City was a major centre for innovation in design as well as the fine arts.
During the 1940s, Paul Rand emerged as an American designer with a personal and innovative approach to modern design. Rand understood the vitality and symbolic power of colour and shape in the work of artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso. In a 1947 poster promoting New York subway advertising, for example, Rand created a design from elemental geometric forms and colours that can be read as both an abstracted figure as well as a target, conveying the concept that one can “hit the bull’s-eye,” or reach potential audiences for plays, stores, and other goods and services by advertising in the subway. An ordinary message is rendered extraordinary through the power of visual forms and symbols. Rand’s work spanned a range of graphic media including advertising, book jackets, children’s books, corporate literature (such as annual reports), packaging, posters, trademarks, and typefaces.
In the 1950s Rand began to spend more of his time on corporate image projects, and he designed what would become ubiquitous trademarks and visual identities for major corporations including IBM, Westinghouse, the ABC television network, and UPS. Many other prominent designers—including Saul Bass (whose many visual identity programs included logos for AT&T), Lester Beall, and the partnership of Tom Geismar and Ivan Chermayeff—focused their practices upon corporate design, as multinational corporations understood the need for consistent graphic standards in their facilities and communications throughout the world.
Bradbury Thompson, a prominent magazine art director, designed a publication called Westvaco Inspirations for a major paper manufacturer from 1938 until the early 1960s. His playful and innovative approach to type and imagery is shown in the design of a spread from Westvaco Inspirations 210 (1958). Here, Thompson responded to the geometric forms of African masks in the Ben Somoroff photograph in the spread by “drawing” a masklike face out of letters spelling “Westvaco.” Thompson’s complex layouts combined art with coloured shapes and unusual typographic arrangements. He explored printing techniques by separating the four plates used to print full-colour images—cyan (a warm blue), magenta, yellow, and black—and having them printed in different positions on the page. He also had engravings from old books enlarged and overprinted in unexpected colours. These experiments were very influential, as they showed a generation of designers new possibilities.
Magazines placed more emphasis upon graphic design during the postwar period. Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 until 1958, pioneered a new approach to magazine design. He created a flowing perceptual experience for the reader who paged through his magazines by varying sizes of type and imagery, alternating complex pages with simple layouts containing large areas of white space, and creating an overall sense of rhythmic movement. The beauty of Brodovitch’s designs was enhanced by the impressive team of collaborators at Bazaar, which included photographer Richard Avedon.
The postwar period has been called a “golden age” of magazine design, when art directors including Henry Wolf (at Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar) and Otto Storch (at McCall’s) extended Brodovitch’s imaginative approach to page layout in large-format magazines. Storch believed concept, text, type, and image should be inseparable in editorial design, and he applied this belief to the editorial pages of McCall’s.
The emergence of television began to alter the roles of print media and graphic design, while also creating new opportunities for designers to work on television commercials and on-air graphics. “Motion graphics” are kinetic graphic designs for film titles and television that occur in the fourth dimension—time. A variety of animated film techniques were applied to motion-picture titling in the 1950s by Saul Bass and, in Canada, by Norman McLaren of the Canadian National Film Board. For example, Bass’s titles for Otto Preminger’s 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder reduce a prone figure to disjointed parts, which move onto the screen in carefully orchestrated sequences that conclude with their positioning to form the figure; the lettering of the film’s title appears as part of the sequence.
Vernacular imagery and popular culture inspired a generation of American designer/illustrators who began their careers after World War II, including the 1954 founders of the Push Pin Studio in New York. Their work combined a fascination with the graphic simplicity and directness of comic books with a sophisticated understanding of modern art, especially of Surrealism and Cubism. The Push Pin artists’ unabashedly eclectic interest in art and design history led them to incorporate influences ranging from Persian rugs to children’s art and decorative Victorian typefaces. In their work, a graphic vibrancy supported a strong conceptual approach to the visual message.
Several major directions emerged in American graphic design in the 1960s. Political and social upheavals of the decade were accompanied by a resurgence of poster art addressing the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, environmentalism, and the Vietnam War. Placing ads on radio and television was beyond the economic means of most private citizens, independent art groups, and social-activist organizations; however, they could afford to print and distribute flyers and posters, and they could even sell their posters to public sympathizers to raise money for their causes.
As popular music became increasingly culturally significant, graphics for the recording industry emerged as a locus of design creativity. One Push Pin Studio founder, Milton Glaser, captured the imagination of a generation with his stylized curvilinear drawing, bold flat colour, and original concepts. Glaser’s poster (1967) for folk-rock musician Bob Dylan is one of many music graphics from the 1960s that achieved an iconic presence not unlike that of Flagg’s I Want You poster from World War I. Over the course of the second half of the century, Glaser steadily expanded his interests to include magazine design, restaurant and retail store interiors, and visual identity systems.
The 1960s also saw the rapid decline of hand- and machine-set metal type as they were replaced by display-and-keyboard phototype systems. Since it is very inexpensive to produce new typefaces for photographic typesetting, the widespread use of phototype systems set off a spate of new designs and reissues of long-unavailable typefaces, such as decorative Victorian wood types. American Herb Lubalin is notable among the designers who embraced the new flexibility phototype made possible for designers. Type could be set in any size, the spaces between letters and lines could be compressed, and letters could be expanded, condensed, touched, overlapped, or slanted. Lubalin’s ability to make powerful visual communications solely with type is seen in a 1968 announcement for an antiwar poster contest sponsored by Avant Garde magazine. The magazine’s logo, placed in the dot of the exclamation point, uses ligatures (two or more letters combined into one form) and alternate characters to form a tightly compressed image. This logo was developed into a typeface named Avant Garde, one of the most successful and widely used fonts of the phototype period.
A creative revolution in advertising writing and design also occurred during this period. Advertising agencies approached marketing objectives through the use of witty headlines, simple layouts, and clever visual images. Copywriters and art directors, working as collaborative creative teams, sought a synergy between word and image. The Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency played an influential role in the history of graphic design by creating advertisements that spoke intelligently to consumers and avoided the hyperbole of the typical “hard sell.”
One of the many advertising designers who launched his career at Doyle Dane Bernbach was George Lois, whose works were engagingly simple and direct. Lois went on to design over 90 covers for Esquire magazine in the 1960s. He used powerful photographs and photomontages, usually by Carl Fischer, to make succinct editorial statements about the United States. These designs acted as independent visual/verbal statements about such topics as assassinations and civil rights.
Postwar graphic design in Japan
During the 1960s and ’70s, American graphics from the New York area, as well as European graphics from the International Typographic Style, influenced designers around the world.
In postwar Japan, for example, when the country emerged as a major industrial power, graphic design evolved into a major profession serving the needs of industry and cultural institutions. European Constructivism and Western design exerted an important influence on Japanese design, but these lessons were assimilated with traditional Japanese art theory. For example, the Japanese tradition of family crests inspired many Japanese designers’ approach to trademark design. Similarly, symmetrical composition, central placement of iconic forms, harmonious colour palettes, and meticulous craftsmanship—all characteristics of much of Japanese art—were often elements of Japanese graphics.
The first generation of graphic designers to emerge after the war was led by Kamekura Yusaku, whose importance to the emerging graphic-design community led to the affectionate nickname “Boss.” Kamekura’s poster proposal (1967) for the Japanese World Expo ’70 in Ōsaka, for example, displays his ability to combine 20th-century Modernist formal experiments with a traditional Japanese sense of harmony.
In counterpoint to the formalist tendencies found in much Japanese graphic design, some Japanese designers drew upon other sources of inspiration to arrive at individual approaches to visual-communications problems. Iconography from diverse mass media—including comic books (manga), popular science-fiction movies, and newspaper photographs—provided a rich vocabulary for Yokoo Tadanori, whose work beginning in the 1960s inspired a new generation of Japanese designers. In his early posters and magazine covers he utilized a variety of contemporary techniques; for example, he used crisp line drawings to contain photomechanical screens of colour. He worked in a Pop-artidiom, but he used revered Japanese imagery as source material, rather than the contemporary imagery usually found in Pop art. In his poster publicizing four Noh theatre productions (1969), for example, he placed iconic images on a luminous gold-and-blue field, combining traditional imagery with a contemporary sense of whimsy. Over time, montage effects became increasingly important to Yokoo as he built his designs from photographic and graphic elements filled with dramatic luminosity.
A very different vision emerged in the work of Satō Kōichi, who from the 1970s created an otherworldly, metaphysical design statement. He used softly glowing blends of colour, richly coloured and modulated calligraphy, and stylized illustrations to create poetic visual statements that ranged from contemplative quietude to celebratory exuberance. For example, in his poster (1988) for a musical play—which was itself adapted from a nursery rhyme about soap bubbles—Satō combined an astronomical sky chart and a handprint glowing with a lavender-and-blue aura to evoke a feeling of ephemeral atmospheric space. Such designs achieve a rare level of visual poetry.
The "Endism" and the 20th Century
In 1828, Georg W. F. Hegel wrote in his Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art;
"Art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life ...".This statement has been understood by many as Hegel's declaration of “the end of art". More than half century later, in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche narrated in The Gay Science, the story of a madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place declaring "God is dead". These pronouncements by Hegel and Nietzsche, on "the End of Art" and "the Death of God" ignited the fad of Endism in the western culture in the final century of the last millennium. Daniel Bell 's "The End of Ideology" (1960), Martin Heidegger's "The End of Philosophy" (1973), Theodore J. Lowpdi's "The End of Liberalism" (1979), Arthur Danto's "the End of Art" (1984), Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" (1989), Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History" (1992), Kenichi Ohmae's "The End of the Nation State" (1996), Jorie Graham 's "The End of Beauty" (1999), Chris Dillow's "The End of Politics” (2007) were just some of such seemingly endless stream of "endings", which made one wonders that at such high rate will there anything be left for a future ending! In fact, all these endism, in one way or another, introduced various paradoxes similar to Roland Barthes' "Death of The paradox of abstraction", which in his words;
is that, by "liberating" the object from the constraints of the figural to yield it up to the pure play of form, it shackled it to an idea of a hidden structure, of an objectivity more rigorous and radical than that of resemblance. It sought to set aside the mask of resemblance and of the figure in order to accede to the analytic truth of the object. Under the banner of abstraction, we moved paradoxically towards more reality, towards an unveiling of the "elementary structures" of objectality, that is to say, towards something more real than the real.
Conversely, under the banner of a general aestheticization, art invaded the whole field of reality. Author" (1967),
Yet, due to a momentous historical shift in the production of artworks that took place early in the last century, it was arguably "the End of Art" that was the most controversial among all those others. The rebellious new avant-garde art movement, while seeking to liberate creative self-realization in art, under the influence of the post-structuralist thinkers; such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Francois Lyotard, Jacques Lacan, and Gilles Deleuze, were objecting against the rational foundation of the Kantian enlightenment. They looked at art as a visual communication process that is constrained by various socio-cultural codes, created and imposed by various centers of power. As a result, they concluded that, what is being visually communicated by this art is most often distorted by its background presuppositions that are false. Thus, the post-structuralist thinkers accused the modern, or the Kantian, rational interpretation of creating commodification, urbanization, bureaucratization, war machinery, colonization, and alienation of humanity.
Thus, post-structuralist thinkers under the banner of an epigraph from Montaigne that said;
“We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things”emphasized the needs for a reinterpretation and revaluation of structural rationality. Jacques Derrida in his essay Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, 1966, hypothesized a rupture and the decentering of the world. He argued that "Concept of structure is as old as Western thought," and the reason why structures have seldom been investigated was that the Western thinking has viewed structures as natural and essential for the very process of thinking. According to Derrida; "Until now, this structure has been reduced by having a 'fixed origin', a 'point of presence'" . The function of this center, according to his argument, was to limit the play of the structure. In other words, center was an essential feature of a structure, since "even today the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself." The center orients and organize the coherence of the system, and thus center permits the play of its elements inside the total form of a structure. For Derrida, the main feature of the center is its rigidity, since "it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements, or terms is no longer possible”. However, "the center has no locus" and anything that resembles a center is just the intersection of various signs.
Derrida and the Meaning of van Gogh's A Pair of Shoes
Derrida has stated that, within classical thought, “the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it… the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center”. The center thus is an unstable concept, it does not work, and it has lost its connection to the present-being of the structure, hence center is under eraser. Derrida, therefore, primarily criticizes structuralism and its binaries which are in hierarchical order, meaning the first term is priviledge over the other. These binaries are not true representations of external reality, rather are simply constructions. Any signified is not fixed. Signified also seeks meaning. When it seeks meaning it becomes signifier. So, there is chain of signifiers, there is no constant existance of signified. It means, there is no centre, no margin, and no totality. As a result, meaning is not determined in the text and knowledge is a matter of perpetual shifting. There is no single stable meaning. Since signifiers do not refer to thing but to themselves, text does not give any fixed meaning. In such situation, multi- meanings are possible. So, sign is only chain of signifiers.
To illucidate Derrida's argument we may look at his discourse about a van Gogh's painting called A Pair of Shoes. In 1886, van Gogh visited a Paris flea market and came across a pair of worn-out shoes. He bought them and brought them back to his atelier in the city’s Montmartre district. Apparently, he did try to wear them and found the fit impossible. Instead, he decided to use them as a prop for painting. The frontal, close-up view of the worn-out shoes -- often interpreted as a symbolic self-portrait -- is a reminiscent of his studies of peasant heads one year before this painting. Martin Heidegger saw the painting on exhibition in Amsterdam in 1930. The experience came to play a focal role in an essay he was writing on the theory of art; The Origin of the Work of Art (1935). Heidegger started by asking the question of the origin of the work of art in terms of the source of its essence or nature. He argued that it is possible to reverse the prevalent view that the art work ‘arises out of and by means of the activity of the artist’ and say that the artist (signified) arises out of the work (signifier); that it ‘does credit to the master’ and thus by means of itself ‘lets the artist emerge’. Heidegger turned to van Gogh’s painting of A Pair of Shoes to infer art from the work. The first thing that Heidegger, the champion of peasant ideology, noted about the painting was that the shoes belonged to a peasant woman. He considered the painting as a sensuous surface which led him to note;
‘the dark opening of the worn inside of the shoes bears the imprint of the toil of heavy footsteps…The leather bears the moisture and satiety of the soil. The soles have slid along the loneliness of the footpath running through the field in the descending night.’Thus, for Heidegger the center of the van Gogh painting is outside the painting itself, in the chain of signifiers, such as the toil of heavy footsteps and so on , in the world of peasantry.
In The Still Life as a Personal Object (1968), Meyer Schapiro took Heidegger to task for his misguided attribution of A Pair of Shoes to a peasant woman. Why did Heidegger thought so? Shapiro, using a chain of other signifiers, found another center for van Gogh's painting. He argued that when van Gogh painted peasant shoes in his other paintings he depicted them as well-kept and in good condition in order to lend dignity to the peasant character. According to Shapiro, A Pair of Shoes was a representation of van Gogh's own shoes that he depicted as worn and tattered. He hypothesized that the picture of the shoes may be of the ones van Gogh wore in Holland, since ‘from the time before 1886 when he painted Dutch peasants are two pictures of shoes – a pair of clean wooden clogs set on a table beside other objects.’ Schapiro plunging deeply into van Gogh’s correspondence and ephemera and the writings of his friends, showed that they were not women’s shoes. He related a story told by Gauguin about how van Gogh had kept for many years a particular old pair of shoes which he wore as a young man whilst working as a trainee pastor where he saved the life of miner who was badly injured by fire. For Schapiro, it was this story that confirmed that the shoes were, indeed, van Gogh’s own personal object represented in art. Heidegger’s rather excitable imagination has gotten the better of him, Shapiro, the city dweller, charged, and concluded that they are the shoes of the well-traveled artist who is by now ‘a man of the town and the city’, a totally different structural center.
Derrida in his Truth in Painting (1987) argued that neither Heidegger nor Shapiro were right, and both were trapped in representational/structural thinking when they sought the identity of the person who donned the shoes as the center of the structure. The proofs submitted therefore prove nothing;
‘nothing proves they are peasant shoes ... nothing proves or can prove that "they are the shoes of the artist, by that time a man of the town and city"Derrida questions how one could know the two shoes are a pair.
If the laces are loosened, the shoes are indeed detached from the feet and in themselves. But I return to my question: they are also detached, by this fact, one from the other and nothing proves that they form a pair. If I understand aright, no title says "pair of shoes" for this picture. Whereas elsewhere … van Gogh speaks of another picture, specifying "a pair of shoes." Is it not the possibility of the "unpairedness" (two shoes for the same foot, for example, are more the double of each other but this double simultaneously fudges both pair and identity, forbids complementarity, paralyzes directionality, causes things to squint toward the devil), is it not the logic of this false parity, rather than of this false identity, which constructs this trap? The more I look at this painting, the less it looks as though it could walk.According to Derrida, both Heidegger and Shapiro equate the shoes in the painting with real shoes. Both assume that the shoes must belong to a real person, a woman peasant or van Gogh himself. Heidegger does not escape the structure of representation by assuming that the painter wanted to depict the shoes as equipment. According to Derrida "the desire for attribution is a desire for appropriation.
He believes that there is no choice but to play the game with the signifiers and thus to create a fleeting function of 'meaning. But neither within nor beyond the game can a center, a final meaning-founding truth, which can be appropriated in a definitive way, be found.
If Derrida's hypothesis with regard to instability in the concept of the center could be proved to be valid it would have profound impact on graphic design. In the structuralist visual communications, the center is represented by the conventional signs, which then, in a Kantian structure, are submitted to thought. However, in post-structuralist paradigm of Derrida a visual designer should move into a new and entirely different mode of thinking instead of simply moving to new thoughts within the same old system. In this new system the center, does not represent the system, which opposes the structuralists' aim to reduce the system (the signifier) into the center (signified). Everything then would be meaningful and meaningless at the same time.
Jean-Francois Lyotard and Duchamp; A postmodernist order in the contradictory art
Jean-Francois Lyotard, who also had written about the meaning of Marcel Duchamp’s art, underlined the importance of the tradition of avant-garde. However;
all traditions and conventions that would have predetermined the parameters of thinking, and could decidedly and fundamentally delineate public agreement are now being reexamined by the affirmation of rights to artistic and social idiosyncrasies.
Lyotard, in his essay "The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge," (1979), expanded Derrida's argument against the center, and referred to the "breaking up of the grand Narratives" that try to establish a center. He argued; the "Enlightenment narrative" would stem from the assumption of a "consensus between the sender and addressee of a statement with truth-value . . . if it is cast in terms of a possible unanimity between rational minds. " Examining the scientific dimensions of post-modernity in this vain, where he defines the term modern to "designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to metadiscourse . . . making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth, " he observes that "the narrative function is currently being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements -- narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on".
Lyotard sees the self as the center, it is the self that determines the meaning:
" A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at “nodal points” of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various kinds of messages pass. No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addressee, or referent. "
Thus, like Derrida, Lyotard reflecting on the loss of the attraction of the the old centers "represented by nation-states, parties, professions, institutions, and historical traditions", that in the past were the source of meaning speculated that those old centers will not be replaced, at least not on their former scale;
The postmodern enfeeblement of meta-narrative -- grands récits propels the individual into life's current and questions the concept of consensus, all traditions and conventions that would have predetermined the parameters of thinking, and could decidedly and fundamentally delineate public agreement are now being reexamined by the affirmation of rights to artistic and social idiosyncrasies. The reevaluation of consensus as a deceitful illusion is disturbing as far as the social organization of humanity is implicated.Furthermore, in this paradigm the distinction of interrelationships of art and individualism as opposed to those of collectivism become intractable, the traditional humanist detachment of art and life would disintegrate, and the boundary between human imagination and pure chaos would break down. Lyotard welcomes avant-garde art, which for him means philosophically speaking a state of criticalness in which all the rules of art are suspect.
This is the perspective from which Lyotard views the work of Duchamp in his Les Transformateurs Duchamp,(1977)--in English Duchamp's Trans/formers, where he writes;
In what you say about Duchamp, the aim would be not to try to understand and to show that you haven't understood. No, not when you think, not a commentary on incomprehensibility in general or in particular, the seven hundred and twenty-eights modern text on modernity as the experience of nothing...You are acting hilarious but overall you are as serious as can be. You're giving us Duchamp as a model of political thought. To compare his fripperies with the suffering of the workers.I won't even ask what sane man sees in The Large Glass the model of republican socialist thought, or in the drama of Given the picture of the future for the masses. In short, there is no need to prove this absurdity. But allow me to remark that they are at least inconsistent with the previous ones, which opted for non-sense: these latter, at present, overload Duchamp, and his use of mechanisms, with an enormous ballast of meanings attached, in a confused way to tell the truth, to the technological revolution of the past two centuries. That indeed make sense, when one has chosen to take the side of inconsistency."
Lyotard’s interpretation of the postmodern sublime is philosophically important, because it permits avant-garde a legitimate position in aesthetics. One may still detect, a postmodernist order in the contradictory art, however it is used to demystify the process of finding meanings. Indeed, in Lyotard's view using a term like postmodern is in itself problematic for the very reason that postmodernism distrusts grand narratives, and overarching labels. Lyotard in Driftworks states:
What is important in a text is not what it means, but what it does and incites to do. What it does: the charge of affect it contains and transmits. What it incites to do: the metamorphoses of this potential energy into other things-other texts, but also paintings, photographs, film sequences, political actions, decisions, erotic inspirations, acts of insubordination, economic initiatives, etc. ... (These Essays) their content is not a signification but a potentiality.
Jean Baudrillard and Duchamp; The end of aesthetic!
Using a fable derived from On Exactitude in Science by Jorge Luis Borges as a backdrop to his argument, Jean Baudrillard too argues about the emergence of a "real without origin". In his The Precession of Simulacra (1983) Baudrillard provides a concept that is rather similar to the search for a meaning, or in Derrida's jargon; "the presumed center of a structure". In Baudrillard's vocabulary this is described as the generation of a "real without origin" by simulation of a model. He argues: "Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal." According to Baudrillard's reconstruction of Borges' fable:
the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly (the decline of the Empire witnesses the fraying of this map, little by little, and its fall into ruins, though some shreds are still discernible in the deserts - the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction testifying to a pride equal to the Empire and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, a bit as the double ends by being confused with the real through aging.)
Baudrillard has found this fable "the most beautiful allegory of simulation", a powerful metaphor for representing his argument. According to him; today our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality. In other words; abstraction defined as the generation by models of a real without origin or reality, a hyperreal, has substituted real. According to Baudrillard;
"The idea of art has become rarefied and minimal, leading ultimately to conceptual art, where it ends in the non-exhibition of non-works in non-galleries -- the apotheosis of art as a non-event. As a corollary, the consumer circulates in all this in order to experience his non-enjoyment of the works. At the extreme point of a conceptual, minimalist logic, art ought quite simply to fade away. At that point, it would doubtless become what it is: a false problem, and every aesthetic theory would be a false solution.
And yet it is the case that there is all the more need to speak about it because there is nothing to say.
Baudrillard's concepts of 'simulacra' and 'simulacrum' appear to correspond to Derrida's concepts of 'signifiers' and 'signified' respectively. Baudrillard used these concepts to argue that the simulation of 'simulacra' or signifiers does not lead to the realization of a real 'simulacrum' or signified, but leads to hyperreal abstract. He offered a number of examples from medicine, army, and religion to validate this hypothesis. His example in the religion domain is particularly lucid;
Beyond medicine and the army favored terrains of simulation, the question returns to religion and the simulacrum of divinity: "I forbade that there be any simulacra in the temples because the divinity that animates nature can never be represented." Indeed it can be. But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme power that is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or does it volatilize itself in the simulacra that, alone, deploy their power and pomp of fascination - the visible machinery of icons substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God? This is precisely what was feared by Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. This is precisely because they predicted this omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear - that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum - from this came their urge to destroy the images. If they could have believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn't conceal anything at all, and that these images were in essence not images, such as an original model would have made them, but perfect simulacra, forever radiant with their own fascination. Thus this death of the divine referential must be exorcised at all costs.
Once again, we are seeing a similar argument to Derrida's, what we see in an image is not real, does not have a structural center, a decipherable meaning. According to Baudrillard, the Byzantine icons had -
"the murderous power of images, that would murder the real, or those of divine identity. What could oppose this murderous power was that of the visible and intelligible mediation of the Real, in the form of representations as a dialectical power. wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could be exchanged for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange - God of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum"According to Baudrillard; representation stems from the fundamental axiom of the equivalence of the sign and of the real.
The paradox of abstraction is that, by "liberating" the object from the constraints of the figural to yield it up to the pure play of form, it shackled it to an idea of a hidden structure, of an objectivity more rigorous and radical than that of resemblance. It sought to set aside the mask of resemblance and of the figure in order to accede to the analytic truth of the object. Under the banner of abstraction, we moved paradoxically towards more reality, towards an unveiling of the "elementary structures" of objectality, that is to say, towards something more real than the real. Conversely, under the banner of a general aestheticization, art invaded the whole field of reality.
According to Baudrillard, it is not only the reality that has come its end but so is the aesthetic, that has been pushed to its end by Duchamp through his transaestheticization. Duchamp’s transformation of the banal object into an aesthetic one, via his readymade, “turns the entire world into a readymade.” As a result,
“all the banality of the world passes into aesthetics, and inversely, all aesthetics becomes banal: a commutation takes place between the two fields of banality and aesthetics, one that truly brings aesthetics in the traditional sense to an end.”Duchamp’s aestheticization of the object world initiated the commodification of art. But, postmodern art has tried to defy commodification by stressing its privileged status in the realm of the aesthetic, the spiritual; hence the museum’s mystification of its relationships with the corporation. As the art becomes commodity, its value is determined in the market, the supply and demand define what is art, a high value art becomes a prestigious art, which entices the artworld and critics to take note of it and to discuss its merits. In this process of the commodification, it becomes critical for the museum to promote its status as the sole arbiter of the aesthetic. In the Jean Baudrillard words;
…everything will be culturalized, every object will be a so-called aesthetic object, and nothing will be an aesthetic object.This is the process of transaestheticization of the world by which;
art substituted itself for life in the form of a generalized aesthetics that finally led to a ‘Disneyfication’ of the world: a Disney-form capable of atoning for everything by transforming it into Disneyland…Thus Baudrillard conclude that the whole world is “Disneyfied”— made into one great image simulacrum. This democratization of art has paradoxically merely strengthened the privileged status of the idea of art. This ‘Disneyfication’ has culminated in the banal tautology of "art is art", which makes it possible for everything to find its place in this circular definition. As Marshall McLuhan has it, "We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art. Thus according to Baudrillard;
The adventure of modern art is over. Contemporary art is contemporary only with itself. It no longer knows any transcendence either towards past or future; its only reality is that of its operation in real time and its confusion with that reality.
Michel Foucault,"Las Meninas" and Réné Magritte; Post-Structural Theory and the New Avant-Garde Movement
It is easy to see why Nietzsche’s thought should have had, and still has for us, such a disturbing power when it introduced in the form of an imminent event, the Promise–Threat, the notion that man would soon be no more—but would be replaced by the superman; in a philosophy of the Return, this meant that man had long since disappeared and would continue to disappear, and that our modern thought about man, our concern for him, our humanism, were all sleeping serenely over the threatening rumble of his non-exisdtence.The new man was a new invention of enlightenment era, Foucault wrote:
"As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end."This man was a fabrication of the Kantian rational reason , or in Foucault's words this man is
“a quite recent creature, which the demiurge of knowledge fabricated with its own hand less than two-hundred years ago.”
According to The Order of Things' thesis the law of nature is constituted by the difference between Man's language and his observations. This is what Foucault tries to establish right from the opening chapter of this book with a discussion of "Las Meninas", a painting by the Flemish painter Velásquez. In this painting the artist depicts himself as the sole observer of the real scene in which the most important subjects, the king and queen of Spain, are only represented to the viewers by their fainted reflections on a mirror hanged on the rear wall of the studio. Yet, the sovereign couple, in spite of their social stations, are occupying the same positions as any common spectator of Velásquez' work. For Foucault "Las Meninas," symbolizes the representation where the subject is always absent, and evades of being represented. The painting is not a random juxtaposition of facts and objects, but its a theater in which knowledge emerges as knowledge-in-itself. The observer of painting only perceives those elements that are conventionally coded as significant. According to Foucault the central pulse of language and thought "resides outside representation... in a sort of behind-the-scenes world even deeper and more dense than representation itself." In this behind-the-scenes world man is only a transitory figure, "a transient passage destined to be soon forgotten in the enigmatic epistemic". In the post-structuralist era, according to Foucault, the subject cannot escape representation, and this is anticipated in the painting of Velásquez.
Foucault argued that the “modern" epoch is characterized by the appearance of the new “man" who is understood as both knowing subject and object of knowledge, whereas in the preceding Kantian rationality Man was effectively removed from nature. "Man" as the representer of the nature has been strictly separated from himself. Due to this rigid dichotomy of representer and represented in the structuralist paradigm, human nature could in no way have been conceived of as a part of nature, and thus could not have been made the object of empirical study. For Foucault, "nature" is simply the way each age represents the world to itself, and it is only in the post-structuralist paradigm that a science of “man” has became possible. Since different epochs dominate different worlds, worlds that are generated by the thought of a particular epoch would determine the visual codes under which its artists can possibly communicate. Such a discourse among historically-situated subjects, was in opposition to Kantian subject-centered approach in the visual communication design. Thus, Foucault proposed an archaeological method of investigation, which proceeded by looking “beneath” the conscious level to the level of “discursive structures” that shape and constrain discourse and experience of art. In other words, for post-structuralists, the disappearance of the Kantian-man offered the opportunity of a new space in which in Foucault's words;
" it is once more possible to think."According to this view, the modern art was located in a new "neutral space", which was characterized by an "absence of oeuvre", and that "affirms nothing". Foucault argued that art provides material for practical thinking, whereby the rich variety of ideas and sensations contained in a single artwork go beyond scientific understanding both of the work and of its ideal and emotional contents.
Magritte and Foucault; a Discourse on the Reality of Representation
|Hegel's Holiday, 1958|
Shortly after the publication of Les Mots et les choses of Foucault in 1966, Réné Magritte read it, and then wrote a letter to him with some photographs of his paintings. In his letter Magritte wrote about correspondence of things and words, thought and visuals, resemblance and similitude. He sought verification of Foucault's views on the relationship between thought and things. According to which things do not have resemblances, and they do or do not have similitude. Only thought can resemble according to what it sees, hears, or knows; and it turns into what the world offers it. While expressing his general agreement with Foucault's views, he discussed his concern that the thought can see scenes that can be visually described. For example, Las Meninas is the visual description of Velasquezs invisible thought. He asked; is the invisible then sometimes visible? Few years before this letter Magritte had written to the critic Suzi Gablik about his painting Hegel's Holiday - 1958, in which he had demonstrated a process by which art had provided material for practical thinking. He wrote;
My latest painting began with the question: how to show a glass of water in a painting in such a way that it would not be indifferent? Or whimsical, or arbitrary, or weak – but, allow us to use the word, with genius? (Without false modesty.) I began by drawing many glasses of water, always with a linear mark on the glass. This line, after the 100th or 150th drawing, widened out and finally took the form of an umbrella. The umbrella was then put into the glass, and to conclude, underneath the glass. Which is the exact solution to the initial question: how to paint a glass of water with genius. I then thought that Hegel (another genius) would have been very sensitive to this object which has two opposing functions: at the same time not to admit any water (repelling it) and to admit it (containing it). He would have been delighted, I think, or amused (as on vacation), and I call the painting Hegel's Holiday.
In fact, in 1926 Magritte in his "Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe" had already exposed the contradictions that exist between the visual and textual representations. Thus, the visual representation of the opposite functions of an umbrella, and a glass of water could not be real.
|Les Deux mystères, 1966|
In his Les Deux mystères, 1966 Magritte had depicted a pipe on a chalkboard under which ''This is not a pipe'' is inscribed like handwritten description by a schoolmaster. A more ideal pipe is depicted hovering above the blackboard, which appears to be the "reality of a Pipe"-- perhaps a Baudrillardian "simulacrum". However, the image of a framed pipe, appears to be a closer representation to the reality of a pipe. According to Foucault the affect of the two paintings is differentiated by their complexity:
The first version disconcerts us by its very simplicity. The second multiplies intentional ambiguities before our eyes.These ambiguities are rooted in the similarity of the object that is seemingly represented multiple times in the paintings. Yet each representation of the object has a different function:
There are two pipes. Or rather must we not say, two drawings of the same pipe? Or yet a pipe and the drawing of that pipe, or yet again two drawings each representing a different pipe? Or two drawings, one representing a pipe and the other not, or two more drawings yet, of which neither the one nor the other are or represent pipes? Or yet again, a drawing representing not a pipe at all but another drawing, itself representing a pipe so well that I must ask myself: To what does the sentence written in the painting relate?A Baudrillardian conclusion appears inevitable; it is the simulacra of the pipe that we know, not the real pipe.
|The Apparition II 1928, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart|
Foucault quotes Magritte:
Between words and objects one can create new relations and specify characteristics of language and objects generally ignored in everyday life. Sometimes the name of an object takes the place of an image. A word can take the place of an object in reality. An image can take the place of a word in a proposition.
So does the language we speak can actually shape our perception of reality? In his "Apparition II 1928 (formerly known as Person Walking toward the Horizon)" Magritte had pushed this question to its logical extreme by depicting a formally dressed man with his back to the viewer, walking towards a bleak horizon amidst of various blobs such as; fruit, nuage, horizon, fauteuil, cheval, which do not mean anything in the vacant reality of the painting, yet the viewer perceives what they represent through their simulacra. In 1948, Magritte had written;
If the images are precise, in formal term, the more precise they are , the more perfect the Trompe-l'œil , THE GREATER DECEPTION, ..."and in 1963 he added
" Trompe-l'œil (if indeed there is such a thing) does not belong to realm of painting, it is rather a 'Playful' physics?"
Magritte painting gave Foucault the title of his book, "Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe", in which he argued that in the Kantian modernity, people were falsely positioned within an established system of seeing that linked reality with visual representation. Magritte's "Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe" and its textual statement called into question visual representation itself, inasmuch as what had been painted on canvas was not actually a pipe, but an image of a pipe. This representational function must be outside nature since it produces nature. Magritte creates a neutral space in which; "it is once more possible to think" of the sovereignty of truth. According to Foucault Magritte's "Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe" overcomes the presupposed restraints, and allows a free play of the imagination. The artist's textual statement, which is the integral part of the artwork, serves to emphasize the fallacy of the assumption that "a pipe" can be represented by the image of a pipe. Important to Foucault's analysis was the distinction between resemblance and similitude in visual representation. In saying that an image resembles reality, one bestows a privileged status to reality. However, in similitude things and images are "more or less like one another without any of them being able to claim the privileged status of model for the rest". For Foucault, there is no such thing as absolute knowledge; since absolute knowledge would have to transcend its own representational restraints, whether those restraint are textual or visual. Thus, from a post-structuralist view point, there can be no natural science of man or thought. The appropriate stance for the mind in this predicament is to reject all pretensions to truth and to be available to the play of all possibilities, using each to cancel the claims of the others.
Marcel Duchamp, and his ready-made revolution
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed the name R. Mutt on a urinal, and submitted it to an art exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists, in New York, , in which he himself was a founding member. In spite of the claim by the society that all kinds of works would be accepted, the R. Mutt urinal was rejected, which not only prompted Duchamp to resign from the society, but also motivated him or his friend Beatrice Wood to write an an anonymous letter in Mutt's defense, and publish it in The Blind Man, a magazine created by Duchamp and his friends. The letter read in part:
"Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view - created a new thought for that object."
Duchamp continued to challenge conventional notions of what "art" is by placing ordinary objects in galleries under the rubric of "ready-made". In fact, his first ready-made sculpture, exhibited in 1914, was an ordinary bottle-rack, which he had purchased at a town-hall bazaar; and even before that he had fastened a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool, calling it a 'distraction'. With these ready-mades, not only he wanted to “put painting at the service of the mind” but, also, wanted to create something that was devoid of aesthetic beauty. In 1938, André Breton confirmed the definition of the new art-object as;
“an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist”
Duchamp's "Fountain" in the "Dada" exhibition at the Pompidou.
This definition made it clear that in the new paradigm it is the context rather than content of an art piece that determines what is art-in-itself. The new art was against aesthetic beauty, as witnessed by Duchamp's comment, “Ok, ça va très bien”, at the margins of a paragraph by Hans Richter who wrote him;
"This Neo-Dada, which they call New Realism, Pop Art, Assemblage, etc., is an easy way out, and lives on what Dada did. When you discovered the ready-mades you sought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken your ready-mades and found aesthetic beauty in them, you threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty"
In 2004, 500 renowned artists and historians of the 'Artworld' named the "Fountain" as "the most influential artwork of the 20th century", but, was it conveying a radically new message? Fortunately, Duchamp has left us with some of his notes and they show that; like Magritte, Foucault, Derrida and other postmodernists, he was trying to obliterate the hierarchy between sign and reality, or the privileged position of simulacrum versus simulacra; He wrote;
“Sameness / similarity /The same (mass.prod.)/practical approximation of similarity. In Time the same object is not the / same after a 1 second interval - what / Relations with the identity principle? ... The possible is / an infra-thin - / The possibility of several/tubes of colour / becoming a Seurat is / the concrete ‘explanation’ / of the possible as infra/thin / The possible implying / the becoming – the passage from / one to the other takes place / in the infra thin. allegory on ‘forgetting’”.
In an interview with the art historian and curator William Seitz in 1963, Duchamp described his own "metaphysical"—point of view as one that doubted everything. Truth and being itself were the main targets of this skepticism, and the reason people believed in ideas that correspond to nothing real was that language deceived them.
Words such as truth, art, veracity, or anything are stupid in themselves. Of course, it's difficult to formulate, so I insist that every word I am telling you now is stupid and wrong .Seitz asked: "Could it be otherwise? Can you conceive of finding words which would be appropriate?" To which Duchamp replied:
No. Because words are the tools of "to be"—of expression. They are completely built on the fact that you "are," and in order to express it you have built a little alphabet and you make your words from it. So it's a vicious circle. I mean it's completely idiotic. I mean the language is a great enemy, in the first place. The language and thinking in words are the great enemies of man, if man exists. And even if he doesn't exist....Duchamp's view on words was precisely expressing the content of Derrida's deconstruction which saw language as a constantly moving independent force that disallows a stabilizing of meaning or definite communication. As Derrida wrote in his Différance, 1982;
The sign is usually said to be put in the place of the thing itself, the present thing, "thing" here standing equally for meaning or referent. The sign represents the present in its absence. It takes the place of the present. When we cannot grasp or show the thing, state the present, the being-present, when the present cannot be presented, we signify, we go through the detour of the sign. We take or give signs. We signal. The sign, in this sense, is deferred presence. Whether we are concerned with the verbal or the written sign, with the monetary sign, or with electoral delegation and political representation, the circulation of signs defers the moment in which we can encounter the thing itself make it ours, consume or expend it, touch it, see it, intuit its presence.
As for his views on the creative power of artists, Duchamp told Pierre Cabanne that he was suspicious of claims that attributed some unique power of creation to the artist;
He's a man like any other. It's his job to do certain things, but the businessman does certain things also, you understand? On the other hand, the word "art" interests me very much. If it comes from Sanskrit, as I've heard, it signifies "making." Now everyone makes something, and those who make things on a canvas, with a frame, they're called artists. Formerly, they were called craftsmen, a term I prefer. We're all craftsmen, in civilian or military or artistic life. When Rubens, or someone else, needed blue, he had to ask his guild for so many grams, and they discussed the question, to find out if he could have fifty, or sixty grams or more
Duchamp work, particularly his ready-mades, in the naive and innocent rebellious epoch of the 1960s, appeared as a bold and revolutionary act, and provoked a discourse about the definition of art that contributed to the creation of Pop Art. According to this debate what a viewer chose to perceive would have carried far more significance than the act of inspection of sublime aesthetics in a masterpiece by Micheal Angelo, Cezanne, Picasso or any other artist. Now it was believed that the viewer would eventually recognize that there are infinite possibilities in the act of perceiving at any historical epoch. Therefore, the artists task was prescribed as; to inform the viewers of how to perceive their works of art and how they have used various concepts and techniques (if indeed any)to visually communicate their artistic statements.
Andy Warhol; A "Reassuring Sort of Narrative"!
|Andy Warhol, Small Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (Beef Noodle), 1962. Casein and pencil on linen. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift from the estate of Robert Shapazian.|
Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964. Silkscreen and house paint on plywood. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift from the estate of Robert Shapazian.
Andy Warhol's Pop Art, together with his Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (1962) and Brillo Box (1964) posed similar challenges for the rational notion of what art is? Pop Art was a declaration of art as visual communication of social commentary, but it was also perceived as an attack against art admired for its aesthetic value. Warhol extended his painting directly into theatrical shenanigans, whereby his medium combined both his art and his own life -- as well as the lives of the “Superstars” surrounding him in his “Factory”. This fusion of art and life as pure theater or performance was characteristic of Postmodernism; art was not anymore an imitation of life, but rather life became imitation of art. As in the Baudrillard's world the Warhol's icons had "the murderous power of images," that would murder the real. As Caggi has pointed out,
Whether or not Derrida is philosophically correct when he suggests that signification is an infinite regress of signifiers linked to signifieds that are themselves signifiers, the fact is that the mass production of signs places us more and more in a mediated reality, more and more in a world where the words and images we experience have been selected and processed by individuals and institutions outside our control. Reality is the creation of those who create images of reality.
In 1964, Leslie Fiedler who wrote two influential articles, "The New Mutants" and "The Death of Avant-Garde Literature", celebrated the emergence of the Pop Art, which according to him was more playful, exuberant, and democratic. Confronting the opposition between high and low art and the elitism of academic modernism, Fiedler described the new culture as a ‘post-’ culture that rejected traditional values including those of Protestantism, Victorianism, rationalism, and humanism. Proclaiming the ‘closing of the gap’ between artist and audience, critic and layperson, that stemmed in his view from the death of the avant-garde and the emergence of new postmodern artforms, he called for a new post-modern criticism that abandons formalism, realism, and highbrow pretentiousness, in favour of analysis of the subjective response of the reader within a psychological, social, and historical context.
Three years later, Susan Sontag in her polemical essay castigated the concept of art interpretation, asserting that there was a time that it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to interpret works of art; that was a time when high art was scarce! But now when high art is plentiful what we decidedly do not need is "further to assimilate Art into Thought, or (worse yet) Art into Culture".
Interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value, a gesture of mind situated in some timeless realm of capabilities. Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness. In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling...Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is largely reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world - in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn the world into this world...In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, comformable...The flight from interpretation seems particularly a feature of modern painting. Abstract painting is the attempt to have, in the ordinary sense, no content; since there is no content, there can be no interpretation. Pop Art works by the opposite means to the same result; using a content so blatant, so “what it is,” it, too, ends by being uninterpretable.Such, bold, colorful, and emotionally charged assertions in the last century became the battle cry of the art establishments, and the most important questions about art was reduced to; what are the new contextual criteria that would delineate art-objects, and are these criteria entirely context-dependent? In fact, the anti-aesthetically driven art theory of the late twentieth century was in celebratory mood, when Arthur Danto articulated his pronouncement of art-death in 1977, arguing that art had reached a “post-historical” state, and cited specifically Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box as a proof. According to Danto, if art is no longer visually distinguishable from an actual mass-produced non-art object, then almost none of the historical definitions of art are valid. Thus, in a Nietzscheian spirit we need to reevaluate all our artistic values that would have allowed us to recognize an "art object" as such. Even though Danto rectified his pronouncement of art-death later on, in his apologia he made it clear that he still believed that the old narrative of art is dead, implying that from then on any art-form in the absence of a theoretical justification could not be considered art. He wrote:
“I was writing about a certain narrative that had, I thought, been objectively realized in the history of art, and it was that narrative, it seemed to me, that had come to an end. A story was over. It was not my view that there would be no more art, which ‘death’ certainly implies, but that whatever art there was to be would be made without benefit of a reassuring sort of narrative in which it was seen as the appropriate next stage in the story.”
Of course, the curious expression "reassuring sort of narrative", did not clarify Danto's position vis-a-vis Foucault's narratives for Velásquez' "Las Meninas", or for Magritte's "Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe". It neither included a kind of Foucauldian narrative for the logic of abstraction in the works by the two of Bauhaus painters, Kandinsky and Klee, in which Kandinsky deconstructed the relation between resemblance and affirming a subject, while Klee demolished the hierarchical linkages of visual representations to textual commentary in an "uncertain, reversible, floating space." Nor it incorporated a kind of Deleuzian archival narrative, in which an archivist like Foucault (as Deleuze had narrated) would corroborate with an artist to explore the prospects at the exterior of the "archive" of their epoch-- an exploration that would get closer to the truth about the the artist and his work. In fact, it was not clear what was Danto's position when the contextual theory were created not by the artist, but by a viewer of the work.
According to Danto;
What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo Box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo Box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is (in a sense of is other than that of artistic identification). Of course, without the theory, one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory as well as a considerable amount of the history of recent New York painting.
Thus, according to Danto's theoretical perspective, an art-object was no longer distinguishable from a non-art object, as long as the artist who had chosen to exhibit a non-art object had a theory to take "it up into the world of art". Danto, of course, was not the sole proponent of such view in the last century. Among the other advocates were people like Jonathan Vickery, an editor and an art critic of contemporary art and Nick Serota the Director of the Tate Modern as well as many other art bureaucrats. For example, Jonathan Vickery wrote:
a work of art is no longer visually distinct from a non-art object… our contemporary concept of 'art' no longer bears any direct or necessary relation to any objective characteristics, any aesthetic qualities, artistic techniques or any kind of object per se.
Vickery argued that the art object exists in direct relation to a 'network of artistic practices, ideas, debates and modes of display otherwise known as the 'Artworld'. According to him, Danto eventually had concluded that artworks emerge from 'a circuit of 'theories' or interpretative processes, which would include exhibitions, debates, philosophy, history writing, and reflection on other artworks. Thus, artworks of the twentieth century were defined/certified as such by the membership of their creators in such a "circuit" . Of course, the concept of circuit had all the characteristics of a trade association, whose acts of interpretation had the magic power of transforming anything into artworks, and a measure of an art work's value was the amount of controversy, discussion, or "interpretation" it provoked. Thus, polemics had became fundamental in transforming a thing into an art object, hence the practical body of art suffered accordingly as the "art object" itself was considered irrelevant in relation to the prevailing discourse, modes of representation and quasi-theoretical justifications.
|Damien Hirst, Mother and Child Divided|
Nicholas Serota, in his The Richard Dimbleby Lecture, BBC TV, 23rd November 2000, had this to say about the last century's 'Artworld';
"Much modern art is, at first sight, unnerving. Personally, I rather welcome that. In the contemporary world, we have come to expect instant response and immediate understanding. Damien Hirst's Mother and Child Divided (1993) is a work that can, at first glance, be read as nothing more than two brutally severed carcasses. 'A freak show', was how an art critic responded to its presentation in the Turner Prize in 1995. For me, the undoubted shock, even disgust, provoked by the work is part of its appeal. Art should be transgressive. Life is not all sweet."
|Detail from Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary 1996.|
In this very peculiar paradigm, young British artists from the Saatchi Collection created a circus atmosphere in New York, in 1999, even before their show was opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Catholics, conservatives and Mayor Giuliani were outraged over Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, which in their view desecrates the Virgin Mary with elephant dung. Similarly offensive examples were provided by Tania Kovat's Virgin in a Condom in the Pictura Britannica exhibition, and Andres Serrano's Piss Christ. David Thompson has reported, in 2004, the fraudulent story of Mr. Glenn Brown, a former Turner nominee, who had enlarged a science-fiction paperback cover by Anthony Roberts, entitled The Loves of Shepherds, as well as enlarging other works by Frank Auerbach and Chris Foss and have received credulous acclaim for them. However, "Brown failed to acknowledge the commercial works upon which his own "finer" art depended". Thus , the aggrieved artists, annoyed of their intellectual property being rubbed threatened Mr. Brown of litigation, which forced him to acknowledge their rightful credits. Thompson concludeded;
Brown's work, along with the credulous acclaim it received, suggests that the distinction between his "fine" art and its commercial source material is merely one of institutional context (it's in a gallery) and of size (it's very big).Similarly, Barbara Kay has reported the case of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Stockholm that no longer teaches traditional drawing and painting techniques. But in January 2009, as a (tax-funded) academic project, an art student in Stockholm was encouraged by her teacher to fake a suicidal tableau on a bridge, then dramatically fight, kick and bite her police rescuers and psychiatric examiners, all in aid of “questioning the accepted definitions of sanity.”
But perhaps a quasi-masterpiece of postmodern was Michael Landy's Break Down, which opened in the vacant C&A building on Oxford Street in central London. Standing on a platform over a production line manned by 10 blue-collared operatives, the artist directed the cataloguing and destruction of all his possessions in 2001. Inside the empty concrete building with its glass windows opening onto Mayfair, the uniformed staff systematically destroyed all his possessions. Every evidence of his being, a total of 7,227 items inventoried as Landy’s material existence was turned into dust. At the end of a two weeks period, Landy’s creation weighed 5.75 tons of scrap; which was eventually dumped into landfill. The theatric was meticulous. During Landy’s creation of rubbish, all his belongings circulated on conveyor belts around the various departments for all to examine, before destruction. Each item had been carefully listed in a detailed inventory account: ‘Item E1038 - Purple Nintendo Game boy CGB/001 with game cartridge ‘Rug Rats’- gift from Gillian Wearing (his partner); after breaking elbow.’ The list included his love letters, his art collection including his Damian Hirst, his SAAB car, all his furniture, the complete contents of his house and studio, library, whitegoods, television, computers, all his personal widgets; electronic toothbrush, torch, soldering iron, etc., his birth certificate, his passport, his credit cards, right down to the change in his pockets and the clothes he was wearing on the last day of his Break Down. According to Guardian;
Landy has made little art since Break Down. "I didn't want to make any work," he says. "I didn't want to do anything. I didn't feel the need to." Instead he has spent his time working on a forthcoming documentary about himself, and completing Break Down's computerised inventory, to be published as a book next month. Otherwise, Landy the artist has done little but try to make sense of what he had done, and its implications.The Man Who Destroyed Everything, a documentary in BBC4 arts channel soon followed. The promotion material for the film read;
Filmed over several months, the film records the artist's 'rehabilitation' back into ordinary life: his struggle with consumerism, his first acquisitions, including a credit card and his shopping sprees in Oxford Street with his one-time dealer Karsten Schubert.Of course, gallery offers, came in from all over the world, including a request from Brazil to do it all again at the Sao Paulo Biennale, which apparently he rejected. However, in January 2010, there was this announcement in Guardian;
Michael Landy, who once destroyed all his possessions as an act of artistic creation, is currently transforming the South London Gallery into a giant container for the disposal of art: an "art bin", open to the public from 29 January. Over the past couple of days, Michael Craig-Martin, Gary Hume and Gillian Wearing (Landy's partner) have had work accepted, making it a very classy dustbin indeed. (You have to apply: not everyone's knitting is worthy of inclusion in Landy's "monument to creative failure".)Apparantly, the new stint was not that successful, since when Sheryl Garratt reviewed Landy's work for an article entitled "Michael Landy's sculpture for Louis Vuitton" in Telegraph, there were no mention of his "art bin" among his other works including his Scrapheap Services, and Break Down.
Postmodernism and Deconstructionism in Graphic Design
The visual communication design was not immune from the challenges posed by the post-structuralism, and in fact, by the last decades of the 20th century the ideas such as compositional meticulousness, communicative intelligibility, lucidity of message, textual legibility, spotless execution, and overall design balance were disparaged by many graphic designers who were trained with usually distorted theories of Derrida, Foucault and other post-modern thinkers. The postmodern theory that was presented to students in the academic curricula of the graphic design schools was usually highly simplistic -- and most often taught by the part-time instructors or journalists who were more inclined to engage in polemical controversies, while reluctant or unable to dirty their hands in the hard works of an art studio. An example of theoretical simplification was that of David Harvey who in the Condition of Postmodernity wrote:
The Enlightenment project, for example, took it as axiomatic that there was only one possible answer to any question. From this it followed that the world could be controlled and rationally ordered if we could only picture and represent it rightly. But this presumed that there existed a single correct mode of representation which, if we could uncover it ... would provide the means to Enlightenment ends. This was a way of thinking that writers as diverse as Voltaire, d'Alembert, Diderot, Condorcet, Hume, Adam Smith, Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte, Matthew Arnold, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill all had in common.
"Enlightenment is the emancipation of man from a state of self-imposed tutelage... of incapacity to use his own intelligence without external guidance... Dare to use your intelligence! This is the battle-cry of the Enlightenment."
Harvey did not clarify that he was arguing about a different usage of the term 'Enlightenment' which meant shallow and pretentious intellectualism, associated with the French Enlightenment of the 18th century. The basic idea of that project was related to the radicalism of the French revolution, and was passionately reflected in the works of Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, and other philosophes that Harvey was listing. Although the philosophes had a legitimate approach in trying to learn from the progress of natural science; how to achieve social progress, unfortunately their radicalism caused them to implement a rather naive version of the Enlightenment Program. However, the enlightenment of Kant-Popper which was based on the Kantian legislative power of reason became the main driver of the modern science. It is based on the axiom that scientific theories cannot be verified, but they can be falsified. Scientific method consists in putting forward highly falsifiable conjectures, which are then subjected to rigorous empirical test for falsification. As a result of this approach, science is able to make progress because falsehood is constantly being detected and eliminated. In Conjectures and Refutations, Popper wrote:
Falsificationists ... believe... that we can never give positive reasons which justify the belief that a theory is true.Nevertheless, the influential design journalist Rick Poynor, quoted Harvey's description of enlightenment in his No More Rules; Graphic Design and Postmodern and wrote:
For postmodern thinkers, it is no longer possible to believe in absolutes, in totalizing systems, in universally applicable values or solutions. They view with the incredulity the claims of grand metanarratives - as Jean-François Lyotard term them.Poynor's agreement with Harvey's distorted presentation of the Kant-Popperian enlightenment axiom was typical of the 20th century's justifications for absurdity, as for the Kant-Popperian enlightenment there could be many possible answers to any question, and those answers will survive until a test would falsify them. In fact, this paradigm encourages all new experiments, but what it does reject is any unfounded and pretentious assertion. In the final analysis Karl Popper likened French postmodern art philosophy to ‘constantly polishing a pair of spectacles instead of ever looking through them at the world’.
|First things first 1964 Manifesto: _The First Things First manifesto was written in 29 November 1963 and published in 1964 by Ken Garland. _It was backed by over 400 graphic designers and artists and also received the backing of Tony Benn, radical left-wing MP and activist, who published it in its entirety in the Guardian newspaper.|
Reacting against a rich and affluent Britain of the sixties, it tried to re-radicalise design which had become lazy and uncritical. Drawing on ideas shared by Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School and the counter-culture of the time it explicitly re-affirmed the belief that Design is not a neutral, value-free process. It rallied against the consumerist culture that was purely concerned with buying and selling things and tried to highlight a Humanist dimension to graphic design theory. It was later updated and republished with a new group of signatories as the First Things First 2000 manifesto. It was an updated version of the earlier First things first 1964 Manifesto. First things first 2000 Manifesto, was published in 2000 by some of the leading lights of the graphic design, artistic and visual arts community. It was republished by Emigre, Eye and other important graphic design magazines and has stirred controversy (again) in Graphic design.
Postmodernism and Digital Graphic Design; the Observer Created Meaning!
The digital revolution of 1980s and development of various computer design softwares such as Fontographer (1986), QuarkXPresss (1986) and Adobe Illustrator (1986-87) and other more advanced packages, opened new vistas and possibilities for visual representation of concepts, and information that could easily incorporate and manipulate both texts and images. It was now possible for the designers to see the previews of the adjustments they were making, experiment with various visual patterns, explore and discover new spatial and compositional arrangements; and gain new insights from such experiments. These softwares allowed the designers to cut, clip, paste, move and rearrange a composition, change the color scheme, distort the shape, introduce various visual effects, and a plethora of other technical capabilities. The development of the Internet, that became consumer friendly in the mid 1990's, was even more fortunate, as the electronic graphic design became globalized and designers could, gather, sift and sort the vast amount of visual information generated in cyberspace to harness their imagination and create stunningly authentic designs. It allowed for interactive design and an effective collaboration among designers across the globe to work and create together in partnerships that could not have otherwise existed. As well it provided new ways of distributing traditional design mediums, such as advertising.
However, the rise of the virtual world also heralded the death of traditional printed materials by the post-modernist designers who were inclined toward devaluation of all values, including the value of ‘authenticity’. In fact, the very term ‘authentic’ in the new virtual world was the very definition of inauthentic in the Popperian rational world. Nevertheless, the new digital facilities allowed the post-modern designers to "deconstruct", and "reconstruct" previous works of the other designers, in a supposedly new visual language. As well, they abandoned the sharp and clean look of sans serif fonts, used by modernist designers such as László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky and Jan Tschichold, who all espoused a rigorous sans serif "new typography" and a dynamic use of white space, which evaded ornamentation and tried to be the austere and efficient conveyor of the message. Instead, the post-modern designers began to use fonts such as the Grunge, which were used in magazines such as RayGun and at places such as Detroit’s Cranbrook Academy of Arts. Typography became a defining term and almost interchangeable with ‘graphic design’ in the visual communication of this era. In the 1990s, as Rick Poynor has argued,
the idea that visual communication tends to be too prescriptive was a constant refrain among younger designers. Many rejected the idea that it was their job to transmit a direct, unambiguous message … They argued that their own screen-fed generation was able to handle messages of much greater complexity. Using computers, they blitzed their peer group with overloaded patchworks of text and image to filter and process. Let the viewer decide what it all meant.
The new fonts were typically ornate, but often difficult to read. This rebellious act was denying not only the relevance of rational modernity, but sometimes even the relevance of legibility itself. As Grunge type designer Carlos Segura, the founder of the controversial type shop T.26, who admired Japanese typography because “they do inject much more calligraphy and art into their typography than most Westerners do,” has said,
Typography is beyond letters. Some fonts are so decorative, they almost become 'visuals' and when put in text form, they tell a story beyond the words--a canvas is created by the personality of the collection of words on the page.
|Emigre, issue 29, 1994. Designed by Ian Anderson (British, b. 1961) for The Designers RepublicTM|
Zuzana Licko and Emigre
By 1990, most design studios were equipped with Apple Macintosh computers. Young designers were competing with type designers, text editors, and digital film-makers. The avant-garde, San Francisco-based Emigre magazine published by the Czechoslovakian-born art director Zuzana Licko, and her spouse the Dutch-born Rudy Vanderlans, was one of the first print-media created on Macintosh computers. Emigre was a platform to lunch the career of many postmodern designers including; Edward Fella, Neville Brody, Anne Burdick, Steve Tomasula, Susan LaPorte, and Michael Worthington. Emigre magazine was published a total of 69 issues, usually irregularly, over the years between 1984 and 2005. Similarly, a group of young artists, established the multidisciplinary studio Tomato, in London in 1991 creating music videos and flashing typographic experiments. When the Emigre's images and lettering was criticized as “loud and blaring, not neat and crisp,” The reply was, “the onus is on the reader to stretch their visual literacy to understand the designers.” Emigre folded in 2005. Swiss designers Cornel Windlin and Gilles Gavillet, created a a poster for an exhibit on computer games, entitled Game Over. Using a computer game design software, the poster divided the face of a die into four cells, with each cell depicting one letter of the word “OVER”. The entire design project was done on a computer.
Game Over, Museum fŸr Gestaltung, 1999, Designed by Cornel Windlin (Swiss, b. 1964) and Gilles Gavillet (Swiss, b. 1973)
David Carson and Ray Gun; Post-alphabetic Aesthetic
One of the success stories of the computer design was David Carson. He was born in Corpus Christi, Texas and spent much of his early life in southern California where he was a high school teacher before becoming a designer with very little formal training in design. At home within the surfing sub-culture of southern California, Carson started experimenting with graphic design during the mid 1980s. His interest in the world of surfing gave him the opportunities to experiment with design, working on several different publications related to the profession. Transworld Skateboarding, Beach Culture, and How Magazine. Soon Carson was hired by publisher Marvin Scott Jarrett to design Ray Gun, a music magazine of international standards which founded in 1992, he served as Art Director for three years, popularizing his so-called "deconstructive typography". William Gibson has described Carson's work collected in a hardbound Ray Gun retrospective as:
"The event horizon of futurity, as close as any windshield, its textures mapped in channel-zap and the sequential decay of images faxed and refaxed into illegibility . . . brave new worlds abraded onto the concrete of the now. . . . This is design pushing back against the onslaught of an unthinkable present"
Carson's aesthetic has been dubbed "post-alphabetic aesthetic". It was chaotic, abstract and idiosyncratic, and at times illegible. While the contents of Ray Gun pages were not related to graphic design, the "post-alphabetic aesthetic" proved to be an exploration of typography, layout and visual storytelling that would alter the approach of many graphic designers.
Tibor Kalman; The Bad Boy of Colors