Sunday, 28 March 2010

Portfolio Task 3 - Essay

Choosing a Particular period from 1800 to the present, in what ways has art and design responded to the changing social and cultural forces of that period? (2 specific examples)

During the Russian revolution, art itself, was revolutionised by government and power. Romanticism, which dominated the art world pre-communism, was overthrown by the death of Tsar. Romanticism art was seen as very emotional and embraced emotions such as trepidation and horror; this was a harsh contrast to the motifs of communism. The communist’s idea was of ideology and that everyone was of equal right and power; art therefore mirrored this and became more focused on furthering society. Artists were also regulated as to what they were allowed to create, which in turn created propaganda within the art world.

Cultural forces shifted all signs of poverty and wealth alike,

‘ The Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’, and Soldiers Deputies gained power. The land was given to the peasants, and the factories became property of the workers. Nothing like it had ever been seen.’ (Guerman, 1979, p5)

However, with Communism’s ideological idea that everyone should be equal came the foreseeable lack in freedom of speech. ‘Peace, bread, land’ was one of their slogans. This however wasn’t to be quite as fulfilling as it sounds and this reflected within art. Art began to be regulated and images of factories, geometry and modernity became the subject matter for artists.

Following the death of Lenin in 1924 Stalin rose to power. He banned Romanticism art which was replaced by Socialist Realism. The rules of Romanticism art went against everything Communism was trying to do, fantasising and elaborating gods and figures of power, which created pity and insignificance against the poor. Equality was a key message in Socialist Realism; private art work for the rich was also abolished because Communists thought design should be socially useful.

‘The abiding ground of argument was political, for politics was the historical reality that pressed on painters and critics, as it did on others’. (Brendan Pendeville, 2000, p54)

Socialist Realism often glamourised the roles of the poor with the purpose to further the goals of Communism. Compared to Romanticism, Socialist Realism was a lot more stark with the use of bold colours and prints depicting images of soldiers and peasants. The Soviet Union officially backed Socialist Realism for almost six years. They saw art as a propaganda tool, which in turn is why it was regulated. Everything was dictated from the head of state. Art communists were put in prison or killed in Russia if they did not conform to make Russia look like the ideal place to live. Arts influences upon the developing society were very strong and therefore this is why such great punishments were made to those who did not stand in line.

Artists such as Aleksandr Rodchenko and Liubov Popova were very influential throughout the Revolution. Their style is defined within constructivism and combines autonomous objects with society and precision. Constructivism, founded in 1913 by Vladimir Tatlin, began in Russia, revolveing around the use of materials such as wood, metal and glass, which helped to represent the strong influence of machinery and technology in the movement. This movement directly links to the Russian revolution and modernity as it influenced construction and development within Russia greatly. This style started to become increasingly more popular within the art world as it reflected developments into technology (including strong structures) in a bid to improve society. Some artists believed three dimensional art was to become favoured and conventional painting and sculpture was to almost disappear.

Rodchenko, born 1891 worked mainly using structural abstract lines and also on paper, sculpturally three dimensionally and within advertisement. Rodchenko’s early works fit within Linearism. From 1910-1920 his works were all very precise and structural with the use of rulers and compasses.

‘I painted my linear pictures in 1919, and they were exhibited in 1920... None of the artists recognized them as painting at the time, yet by the end of 1920 and the beginning of 1921 imitators of my art were already appearing on the scene. Many said that line as a framework had opened their eyes to the essence of construction’. (German Karginov, 1979).

Art like this, reflects the ever changing and growing society and the obscure shapes he creates within these images reflects an unknown surrounding and the adaptation people had to undergo with the power change. The preciseness of the lines also influenced society to progress.

With increasing followers of this style and art being used as propaganda tool, art seemingly got reflected back out into society and influenced an uncertainty within the constructivism Russia. Rodchenko’s work went onto become more sculptural and three dimensional. Many of his works were named ‘Construction’ in 1918 and were of abstract ideas and shapes (source 1). These ideas, of course, were a completely different direction to Realism and Romanticism and almost lit the way of the future for society, rather than picturing surroundings and class, commonly depicted in Romanticism and Realism. This new movement of Constructivism focused on generalisation of people and objects and gave no-one separation and distinction between each other. Focus was on economy as a whole, who were seen to have no emotion, feeling or opinion.

Rodchenko went on to advertise. His style focused back into two dimension. One particular poster he created advertising books and reading aiming to convince people to come to book stores (source 2). This was another influence from Communism leaders to try and advance society and expand peoples horizons. The introduction of imagery created emotion and involved the audience more directly. The woman pictured looks to be a standard class, which shows equality. The red ‘books’ lettering is in a shape of a wedge representing the revolution. Alexander Rodchencko thought new forms of art could be a new language creating emotion between the audience and the objects or people within the subject matter.

Working also as an iconic artist throughout the Russian Revolution was Liubov Popova, an avant-garde artist. He worked alongside Rodchenko and independently as well.

‘It includes Popova’s abstract collage patterns for embroidery submitted to the artisan co-operative ‘Verbovka’ ‘her linocut portfolios printed to promote a method of copying’ ‘between 1917 and 1918 she sketched models for proletarian furniture’. (Margarita Tupitsyn, 2009, p13).

Reds and black are two very prominent colours in Popova’s work. Red possibly expressing war and struggle in an emotive sense or also for the use of attention and status within his work. Red and black are both very bold colours and draw the eye within the image. This could reflect the communist attitude to having a tight schedule. Everything had to improve; the way of life, the forward thinking for the future, the order within society and the overall power of the government within a classless society. Block colours, angled lines, bold, no-frills fonts, straight to the point text and construction were all traits that both Popova and Rodchenko’s work owned.

Society had changed, high class royalty living in luxury and poverty and hunger, pain as well as pleasure, were all a thing of the past. Society was now almost emotionless, everybody was equal, no body stood out, nobody could use their special talents and skills for their own benefit. Art closely mirrored this change in society, from the flamboyant Romanticism movement where royals were praised and the poor were disregarded, people could realise dreams and aspirations. Panning to the soul-less Communist art of Socialist Realism and Constructivism. Everything had a purpose and art wasn’t created to be pretty. Order and boundaries had badly affected the ambitious and personality that once belonged to the art and design world. However, Russia in 1925 was the most advanced country in the world. By taking away the voice of the people they focused on development and technology a lot more which created a hypothetical fast forward in the Russian society.

After thirty years of the Communists rule no-one had any design qualities because personality and individuality had been suppressed. The revolution was an opportunity for art to progress but it could be said it stood still or even went backwards in time, in respects to the individuality and innovation within the art world. Communism’s ideas was that art should help construct a new society and it did this, but not for the better.

Source 1

Rodchenko, Hanging Sculpture, 1920

Source 2

Poster by Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1924


(Books sourced from Leeds Central Library)

1). M. Guerman (1979) Art of the October Revolution, Leningrad, Aurora Art Publishers. (709.47)

This extraction shows how Communism changed society greatly and this had a knock on effect in the art world.

2). Brendan Pendeville (2000) Realism in 20th Century Painting, London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (709.04)

This extraction explains how politics effected everything.

3). James Malpas (1997) Realism, Movements in Modern Art, London, Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. (709.04)

This extraction helps show and define the differences between art before and during the Communism reign.

4). German Kargino (1979) Rodchenko, London, Thames and Hudson. (759.7)

This extraction shows the society and its adaptation to new trends and ways of working in the art world, conforming to the changing times.

5). Margarita Tupitsyn (2009) Rodchenko and Popova Defining Constructivism, London, Tate Publishing. (709.47)

This extract shows some of the vast amount of work Popova created and not only the quantity but the variation with media and outcome.

Some information taken from notes written on 1st December 2009 in critical studies lesson with Richard Miles.

Webpages viewed to inform essay content

Wikipedia. 2010 Tsar [Online] (Updated January 10th 2010) [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Google Images. 2010 Romanticism artwork [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Ask art. 2010 Constructivism [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Wikipedia. 2010 Bolshevik [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Google Images. 2010 Popova [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Google Images. 2010 Rodchenko [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Google Images. 2010 Rodchenko and Popova [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Encyclopedia. 2010 Russian Constructivists [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Google Images. 2010 Constructivism [Online] [Accessed February 1st 2010].

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Seminar Notes - Revolutionary Design in Russia

Portfolio Task 2 - Modernism Text Summary

In early twentieth century scientific and technological advances were changing the world (modernisation). These changes were fast paced and forced people to adapt quickly to the changes in society. 'Modern' and avant-garde was seen as a positive connotation; to 'modernise' was to improve. However, there were various perceptions towards Modernism, some people were pessimistic of the growth of populations in cities and the control of people by machines which would inevitably lead to alienation and pending doom. With Modernisation brought work shifts, everything was scheduled and the whole of life was driven by work.

Looking from another point of view work was high in supply, mass production dominated, making new materials cheaper and more accessible for everyone. Scientific philosophical thinking had made leaps and bounds which started to embrace new thinking, scientific facts were favoured over faith and superstition. Exhilaration, excitement and dynamism was felt by some people, for example, the world had opened up to people through easier travel, travelling greater distances much faster.

After the first world war another response in art emerged that looked for the cause of the modern world viewed from the effect on the relations between people (especially between classes). Socialism sought to use art to help emancipate the people.

Expressionism and Futurism were a response to urban modernisation and tried to reflect the modern world. Cubism did not try to reflect the changes in the outside world in the same way. The subject matter was largely still life and with scenes set up by the artists. However, because of technical innovation cubism was perceived as being the more modern. The appearance had more influence than the subject matter.

Reference - Harrison, C and Wood, P. (eds.) (1997) ‘Art In Theory: 1900-1990', Oxford, Blackwell, pp. 125-9.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Portfolio Task 4 - Semiotic Analysis

Text A

Text B

Brand identity and individuality are key to a companies success in the ever growing cut-throat, consumer market. The two texts above are advertisements for car companies. Text A is an advertisement for Bentley; a high end, automobile brand. Most commonly associated with wealth and power, this text depicts these same attributes, but coincides in a somewhat unforgiving manner. Harsh shadow and bright spotlights create focal points and also mystery within the darkness of the background. Black is the most prominent colour, a colour already identifiably in keeping with the brands identity and a colour which signifies elegance and sophistication. The light contrasts against the darkness and creates a glossy, sultry ambience within the text which is mirrored in the subjects body language. His somewhat relaxed composure, coupled with his smug grin and hand gesture connote wealth, power and status; all attributes of a high class business man. Who doesn't want to be a wealthy business man? The use of reification links the subject's highbrow facial expression and the strong hand gesture, which could mimic the car's performance or persona. The conscious decision to picture a man instead of a car in a car advertisement is very striking and shows confidence within the brand.

Similarly in text B the focal point isn't the car that is wanting to be sold, instead it is a dog. The only colour which stands out is the colour of the dog and its lead with the main interest of the advertisement, the car, sinking into the background. The use of a dog (man's best friend) creates an emotive connection instantly before you even look at the product being sold. Relating the car to a dog denotes family, fun and a trustworthy car. This significantly shows how a commodity culture influences society by relating images to products creating emotional attachment and a false want/need for the product. In the second text, there is a reoccurring use of colours. Darks and lights help create shadow and depth, however, in this text the contrast and ambience aren't quite so tense and dramatic. In comparison this text is noticeably more emotive and directed at 'every day people'. It uses a simple line to reassure the audience that 'it's got everything'. Having this in a bold, larger font makes this seem like the only information you need to know about the car.

Both of the advertisements use distracting methods to make you buy their products. The dog and potential wealth, neither of which relate seemingly to the cars, but at the same time it is pictured to connote these aesthetics will be included with the cars. Lighting has been used very cleverly in both texts to emphasise certain attributes, in text A the hand gesture is in focus signifying a smug, arrogance and also relating to the powerful performance of the car. In text B alike, the dog is the focal point instead of the car proving that you can sell, figuratively speaking, almost anything with the right associations with other objects.

Lecture Notes - Graphic Design , a medium for the masses

Graphics Design - A Medium For The Masses

When did graphic design actually start?
  • Cave paintings
  • Precso paintings depicting a visual story.

  • Paintings used for graphics later: John Everett Millais - Bubbles 1886
  • Bubblesmillais.jpg John Everett Millais, Bubbles, 1886 (Wikipedia) image by jefferyhodges
The introduction of the term 'graphic design' was in 1992 by William Addison Dwiggins (successful designer):

'In the matter of layout forget art at the start and use horse-sense. The printing-designer's whole duty is to make a clear presentation of the message - to get the important statements forward and minor parts placed so that they will not be overlooked. This calls for an exercise of common sense and a faculty of analysis rather than for art'.

Herbert Spencer: 'Mechanized art'.

Max Bill and Josef Muller-Brockman: 'Visual Communication'.

Richard Hollis: 'Graphics Design is he business of making or choosing marks and arranging them on a surface to convey an idea'.

Paul Rand: '...graphic design, in the end, deals with the spectator, and because it is the goal of the designer to be persuasive or at least informative, it follows that the designer's problems are twofold: to anticipate the spectator's reactions and to meet his own aesthetic needs'.

Josef Muller-Brockman - 'Whatever the information transmitted, it must ethically and culturally, reflect its responsibility to society'.

'Although graphics design as we know it originated in the late nineteenth century as a tool of advertising, an association today with marketing, advertising, or capitalism deeply undermines the graphic designer's self-image. Graphic design history is an integral part of advertising history, yet in most accounts of graphic design's origins advertising is virtually denied, or hidden behind more benign words such as 'publicity' and 'promotion'. This omission not only limits the discourse, but also misrepresents the facts. It is time for graphic design historians, and designers generally, to remove the elitist prejudices that have perpetuated a biased history'. - Steven Heller, Eye No. 17, 1995.

Alphonse Mucha 1898, poster for cigarette papers

Peter Behrens 1910, AEG

Herbert Matter 1932-34 - Swiss Tourist Board


Helmut Krone for Doyle Dane Berback 1959 - Think Small (advert for Volkswagen)

"The word 'advertising', like 'commercial art', makes graphic designers cringe. It signifies all that sophisticated contemporary graphic design, or rather visual communications, is not supposed to be. Advertising is the tool of capitalism, a con that persuades an unwitting public to consume and consume again. Graphic design, by contrast, is an aesthetic and philosophical pursuit that communicates ideas. Advertising is cultural exploitation that transforms creative expression into crass propaganda. Graphic design is a cultural force that incorporates parallel world views. Advertising is hypnotically invasive. Graphic design makes no such claim" -Steven Heller, Eye, No. 17, 1995

"We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as: cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons ..."- Ken Garland, First Things First Manifesto, 1964

"There are other things more worth using our skill and experience on. There are signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, television features, scientific and industrial publications, and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world‟ - Ken Garland, First Things First Manifesto, 1964

Art Workers Coalition 1970 - Q. And babies? A. And babies.

David Carson - Don't Mistake Legibility for Communication

Mark Farrow (Farrow Design) 1997 - Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating in space, ltd. edition cd packaging

"Evidence of designer concern is found in the form of well-meaning but woefully masturbatory poster exhibitions and portfolios organized on general humanistic themes such as peace, human rights and the environment‟ - Steven Heller, 1991

"Benetton, rather than using its ads to extol the virtues of its clothing, opted instead to communicate what Oliviero Toscani believed to be fundamental truths about the injustice of capital punishment. According to the company's communication policy, "Benetton believes that it is important for companies to take a stance in the real world instead of using their advertising budget to perpetuate the myth that they can make consumers happy through the mere purchase of their product"'. - Naomi Klein, Truth in Advertising, 2000 * in Looking Closer 4 ,p64).

"Once we‟ve acknowledged that designers have certain inherent limitations as message bearers, the question which must be asked is: 'Can graphic designers actually do something to change the world?'‟ - Steven Heller, 1991

"The answer is 'yes', if one disregards the fact that there are very limited outlets for this kind of work, and accepts the fact that being socially responsible means taking the initiative oneself, dealing rationally with issues, and having a commitment to a specific cause‟
Steven Heller, 1991

Adbusters is a non-for-profit, anti consumerist organisation founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They describe themselves as 'a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.


Sunday, 21 March 2010

Lecture Notes - (Art) The Mass Media and Society

(Art) The Mass Media and Society

Marshall Mcluhan - printing media theorist.
"Age of print" 1450
First machine to let us print letters - produce in more mass available to more people - Modern alternative is the e-book.

Computer Media

The way we read has changed because of:
  • Hypernet - hypertext.
  • Hypermedia, media, pics, sounds.
Hypermedia as a term is often used interchangeably with the term multimedia, (meaning many forms) however, it specifically means the practice of interlinking media texts on an online document, which might involve passage to either visual, audio, computer programme or other (written text). The argument goes that hypermedia will encourage a new kinds of literacy. This kind of textual reading is reckoned on being exciting and rewarding. Claims are made that the new kind of electronic reading empowers its readers, who can take a more active role in the practice of reading than formally available from the printed page. The user can select the pace depth with which he/she wishes to approach the electronic text. However, hazards such as 'being lost in hyperspace' and accepting the textual route as 'all encompassing' are apparent.

The Role of Hypermedia - If hypermedia is to be taken as characterising a new form of literacy appropriate to a 'post-print' era then we need to question what manner of transformation in society will it herald, for whose benefit and at what cost.

Mass media - Modern systems of communication and distribution, supplied by relatively small groups of cultural producers, but directed towards large numbers of consumers.


Negative criticism of mass media:
  1. Superficial, uncritical, trivial.
  2. Viewing figures to measure success.
  3. Audience is dispersed.
  4. Audience is disempowered.
  5. Encourages the Status Quo (conservative).
  6. Encourages apathy.
  7. Power held by the few motivated by profit or social control (propaganda).
  8. Bland, escapist and standardised.
  9. Encourages escapism, seen as a drug which anaethetises us.
Positive criticism of the mass media:
  1. Not all mass media is of low quality.
  2. Social problems and injustices are discussed the the media.
  3. Creativity can be a feature of mass media.
  4. Transmission of high art material reaches a broader audience.
  5. Democratic potential.
John A. Walker - Art in the age of the mass media.
"Art can only exist if it is above the society it is produced in".

Richard Hamilton - Just what is it that makes today's homes so different.


Warhol 1962 - Green coca cola bottles


Warhol 1962 - Marilyns - Kitch colours. Production of celebrity glamour masks.

Repetition of images desensitises us


Warhol 1963 - Ambulance Disaster

Art styles claimed to companies or sectors of society - Loreal, Rolling Stones, Franz Ferdinand.

Marcus Harvey 1995 Myra Hinley mass murderer public photograph. Handprints from kids make to the picture relating to murdered children.



  • New media are changing the way we consume and read text and image.
  • Theorists of the mass media have different viewpoints seeing it either as - negative and a threat or positive pleasurable and democratic.

Lecture Notes - Advertising, Publicity and The Media

Advertising, Publicity and The Media

'History will see advertising as one of the real evils of our time. It is stimulating people to want things, want this, want that, there is no end of it' - Malcolm Muggeridge.

'Instead of being identified by what they produce, people are made to identify themselves because of what they consume' - Williamson 1991:13

'Publicity [advertising] persuades us by showing people whose lives have been transformed' - Berger 1972

'Art showed what the owner of objects already had, whereas advertising shows us what we ought to have' - Berger 1972

'The products [of mass media/cultural system] indoctrinate and manipulate; they provide a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood... Thus, emerges a pattern of 'one dimetional' thought and behaviour' - Mercuse 1956

In early 1990 estimates showed there were over 11,000 TV advertisements every year and 25,000,000 printed adverts created every year.


Karl Marx 1818 - 1883

Karl Marx was a theorist of social class difference. He wrote the books 'Communist Manifesto' and 'Das Kapital' 1887 vol 1

Markist would argue consumer culture lives governed by what we consume. In commodity we construct out identities through consumer products that inhabit our lives. This is what Stewart Ewen calls the 'commodity self'.

Judith Williamson, author of 'Decoding Adverts' said, 'instead of being identified by what we produce, people identify themselves by what they consume'.

How does commodity culture perpetuate false needs?

  • Aesthetic innovation
  • Planned obsolescence - gadgets deigned to break.
  • Novelty.
Commodity Fetishism - Advertising conceals the history/background of products. Context is which a product is produced is kept hidden. Eg. cheap sweatshops producing branded items for pennies.


  • Products are given human associations.
  • Products perceived as sexy, romantic, cool, sophisticated.
Frankfurt school was set up in 1923.
Herbert Marcuse, author of 'One dimensional man', 1964.

Commodity culture manipulates us, it gives us tunnel vision and doesn't let us live life to the full.
  • Buying things makes us richer, but realistically poorer because we spend money.
  • It seeks to make people unhappy with existing material possessions.
  • It potentially manipulates people into buying products that they don't really need and want.
  • Encourages addictive, obsessive ad acquisitive behaviour.
  • It distorts language and encourages bad usage and incorrect spelling (u and you).
  • Encourages consumers, especially children, to want products they cannot afford, causing feels of inadequacy and envy.
  • Uses images that encourage us to buy products and brands that have potential to be unhealthy.
  • Encourages unnecessary production and consumption, therefore depleting the worlds resources and spoiling the environment.
  • Advertisement has no morals.