Pithy History p. III / The Bridge to the Twentieth Century

In this post I summarize Megg’s History of Graphic Design, chapter 9 – 12.

Find a summary of chapters 5 – 8 here

Graphic Design and the Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) is characterized by great social, economic, and technological change in England and later, the world. Urban populations increased while rural ones diminished, and the printing industry expanded. Fat faces, Tuscan letters, and sans-serif type styles emerged from this era and printing press technology developed, further mechanizing typography. Photography, though the basic concept existed as early as the time of Aristotle, was essentially invented. Additionally, lithography was also invented, somewhere between 1796 and 1798. The culmination of these technologies led to the development of the magazine, and respectively, the origins of modern advertising.

The Arts and Crafts Movement and its Heritage

The arts and crafts movement was partially a reaction to the shoddy, mass-produced goods made possible by industrial revolution technology. Fans of the movement called for a return to quality and handicraft, and the individual expression of the maker. Perhaps, in 2014, this movement has caught its second wind. Many young people seek a return to “authenticity” and attempt to embrace local businesses, rather than buying mass-produced items from corporations.

Art Nouveau

The Japanese movement Ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) heavily inspired art nouveau, in terms of style and content. In Japan, the movement lasted from 1603 – 1867. In contrast, in Europe art nouveau only lasted two decades (1890 – 1910) but the movement continues to have influence over the design and illustration world. Samuel Bing, who opened a gallery in Paris under the name “Salon de l’Art Nouveau,” coined the term, and the style is characterized by organic shapes, pictures of beautiful women and birds as motifs, “whiplash” lines, and bold contours with subtle internal details. This non-representational style that rejected historicism and the old themes of preceding art movements set the wheels of modernism in motion.

The Genesis of Twentieth-Century Design

Key players and groups in this movement include architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Glasgow School, the Vienna Secession, Peter Behrens, and Frank Pick, among many others. In modern times, art nouveau spread the idea that art didn’t have to abide by ancient traditions, and that artists could create their own styles and interpretations of reality, with themes of their choice.


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