Saturday, October 23, 2010

Art Nouveau's influence today

This week I got to play with a friend's large stash of glossy, high-end fashion magazine collection while I was helping her with a collage.  I was immediately struck by how much some of the Art Nouveau sensibilities have snuck back into our advertising lately (last couple of years), especially the work of graphic artist, Ramid Malinic.  After finding out his name when I was researching the Smirnoff ad (middle), I looked for more of his work.  A small sampling is shown below:

 The flourishes, definite nature themes and swirls are definitely taken from the Art Nouveau.  Ramid has replaced the typical female form with product, updated the colors and modernized the stylings but the influence is there.  I'm not the only one who has noticed this -- while looking at his work on the web, many of the sites I visited commented on this.

This style has also crept back into other advertisements, with the advent of computer graphics.  Flourishes and swags, birds and flowers, are now layered in the background of many ads.  Once I made this connection, I'm now looking at ads differently -- its like playing "where's waldo" when looking through magazines.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Field Notes: Getting close to history

Our readings this week on William Morris and the American Type Founders Company reminded me of a previous class field trip to the San Francisco Library last April where we actually got to see a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer.  It is one thing to see this beautiful work in our textbook, and whole other thing to be standing a foot away from the actual thing.

My friend Evan looks over the Kelmscott
Chaucer during a visit to the
San Francisco Library's Rare Book Collection
The first thing that you notice is that the textbook just doesn't do justice to the size of the work!  It's a huge book, as the above picture testifies.  The illustrations are large and the ornamentation on the pages and in the frames of the illustration are just as lushly detailed as the rest of the book.  We are very lucky to have one in a local library, and just as lucky that (a) people through the years have valued this work, taken good care of it and donated it to our library and (b) that we have a Rare Book Collection where such works are held, especially with the budget cuts in recent years.  Some more pictures of the inside of the book:

Two page spread of the Chaucer

Detail from one illustration in the Chaucer

One of the other books that we were shown was a Specimen Book from The American Type Founders Company.  This book would be sent out to printers so they could see what fonts ATF had and order them.  Basically, this was an advertisement for type, albeit one that was a little larger than a big city phone book!

ATF and William Morris were rivals, and Morris would not license his fonts to the ATF Co.  But Morris' designs were extremely popular, and ATF wasn't going to let a little thing like licensing get in the way of a huge profit.  So ATF would just create "look-alike" fonts and embellishments for their clients to order. Being British, Morris had no claim on the American reproductions although he wrote them scathing letters and did contact his barristers.  Even back then, "knock offs" existed.

The ATF Co. Specimen book 
Detail of the inside of the ATF Specimen Book,
featuring Wm. Morris "look alike" fonts
and embellishments

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Field Notes: Guttenburg, Tyler Clementi and Liu Xiaobo

While I was reading this week's assignment, I noticed strong similarities between the information explosions that printing and the internet caused, and society's reactions and assimilations to them. 

Each time a new technology has emerged that has allowed people access to more information faster, there have been similar patterns of public education, public obsession, and governmental regulation and/or attempt to control the technology.  

Both with printing and the internet, it took several decades for the public to be introduced to the new technology, and find ways to use it in their everyday lives.  With printing, people had to learn how to read, purchase or borrow books, figure out that putting up a notice would get you customers, or that one could actually sell a sheet printed with the latest news or your views on religion.  Similarly, the internet was around for several decades before the "World-wide Web" became a sensation; the public had to have access to computers, especially at home, and a modem, and be introduced to surfing the net and how to find things.  Businesses found out they could sell online, use spam to sell things and have websites for product information and public relations.  Similar events took place for both the telegraph and telephone.

Once the public learns about a new medium, and its integration becomes not only acceptable in our daily lives, but useful and generating income, there is this explosion where everyone is trying to use it so that they too can generate income or disseminate information.  From 1424 when Cambridge University had only 122 manuscript books in its library to 1502 when French printer Henri Estienne died with almost that many titles that he had published alone, one can see the sheer volume of books that were published.  And from my own high school graduation in 1979 when a website wasn't even known to the general public to the millions that now exist, one can see the similarities between these two explosions of use.

With use, comes abuse and social issues.  When does one person's marketing become an annoyance to another person, or a society?  It certainly does promote someone's product or cause to have broadsides plastered over every square inch along a public boulevard, or to send multiple emails every day for several weeks to people whose email addresses they've acquired.  Yet, to be on the receiving end of those emails, or to walk along that public boulevard, people may not see them as useful or necessary. Governments and the legal system have created laws to try to define the line between useful and annoying, and then had to enforce those laws.  Other issues may be what secrets are allowed to be kept by a country's government for national security issues, who has access to pornography or adult materials, what is free speech and what is defamation, and other privacy issues.  Certainly, the recent public broadcast of Tyler Clementi's tryst has raised a host of legal and moral issues for our latest technologies, but these issues have been raised before for print media and for most societies in general.

Government constriction of information and free speech is another issue that new media challenges.  From Martin Luther's excommunication and condemnation as an outlaw, to Liu Xiaobo's winning of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, the tradition of trying to silence those who challenge the current political, religious or moral regime has been going on since time began.  Each technology, with its ability to get information out to the public, is a threat to the status quo because more people can learn about and discuss what is going on, and then try to change it.  Martin Luther's 95 Theses was widely distributed and demonstrated the power of the printing press to get ideas out and also out quickly.  China's attempt to control of the internet has been widely criticized and publicized (outside of China), and one that will continue to be an issue for many years to come.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Right now the topics in my Typography class overlap with History of Graphic Arts.  It almost feels like cheating -- learning about something in one class that you can apply in another -- but hey, I'll take it!!

In both classes, we are learning about the development of writing and typography.  I really like all the links that are included in my Typography class and thought I'd list them here for others and for future reference:

Paper, Leather, Clay & Stone: The Written Word Materialized

A Brief History of Typefaces

Short Video: Typography is What Language Looks Like

Aspect of the Victorian Book

In addition, I thought I'd add Kevin Steele's wonderful pop-up book on typography here.  It was part of the gallery show for the Moveable Book Society's conference that I went to last month.  Most of the people at the conference were graphic artists of some kind and we all agree that Kevin should have this book mass-produced -- its that good -- but right now it is a handmade one-of-a-kind.  The YouTube video shows the book in action and is very well produced and clear:

The write-up for this book and the rest of the show can be found at:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Field Notes: Cave Paintings

from the website:
from the website:

This week's assignment involved the evolution of writing, from pre-historic times through illuminated manuscripts.  This entry will focus on the cave paintings or pictographs that I found in my wanderings.  For a more detailed description of pictographs, please see my previous blog entry.

I thought the pictographs, especially the ones from Lascaux and Chauvet Caves in Southern France, were beautiful.  

I loved the repeated cats drawn over one another (top, Chauvet Caves).  Even though the different sizes and overlapping indicates that they were done at different times and were not meant to be artistic, the forms are organic and create an interesting and intriguing pattern.  They look like cats to me, but some experts think they may be bears. 

The bright hues and striking contrasting blacks of the Lascaux Caves' paintings (bottom) were incredible.   I think I am used to seeing pictographs that were painted in areas where they interacted with the weather and faded; 
I can easily imagine that all pictographs were more colorful than we see now.

I can also see why Victoria Finlay chose to start her book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette, here in these caves.  I read this book this summer and it was very interesting to see the caves she described, as well as remember the process of how the pigment was made and applied.  The color is so rich that it is easy to see why the peoples who painted these were drawn to them: the different shades of earth that created the reds and golds, the black charcoal.  Even if it wasn't to make the drawings pretty, I think that these people must have noticed the eye-popping contrast.

One of my favorite cave drawings was this yellow horse in Lascaux:

from the website:
because it reminded me very, very much of one of my favorite artists, Franz Marc, who died during World War I (below).  I liked how two artists, thousands of years apart, could be so similar.

from the website:
Lastly, I really liked "avocational archaeologist" Donald Austin's website,  One of the things he showed was "enhanced" cave paintings where using digital image processing, they bring out much of the design that has faded.  It made it much easier to see some of these fragile images and understand them better.

Unenhanced Pictograph from Painted Rock, CA 
Enhanced version of above pictograph

Module Essay: Explaining the Differences

I spent a lot of time researching my essay for Quiz #2, not because the topic was so hard or required it, but because I got lost in all the information and wonderful pictures!  I'm very happy with the way the essay turned out, so I am posting it here too, as a personal reference.   Also, I can add pictures and links to many of the sites that I got lost in!!!

A petroglyph is an image somehow cut into the rock.  It can be carved, chipped or somehow embedded into the stone in any other way that pre-historic people could.
Petroglyph from
A pictograph is an image that is painted onto the rock.  Different types of earth, charcoal, ground stones or plant matter were mixed with a medium, usually animal fat, to adhere the pigment to the stone.
Pictograph from
Ideograms are pictures or symbols that convey an idea or concept.  For example, how would you draw heat or warmth? They really aren’t visible, physical objects that you can depict, although you physically feel them.  You might draw a fire or the sun, but you really aren’t talking about those objects specifically -- you are communicating something that comes from them.
Native American ideogram for Bear Dead
Native American ideogram for Bear Alive
from the website
Found on all continents, petroglyphs, pictographs and ideograms are a form of pre-writing.  All do not represent words or sounds of a language.  We don’t believe they were made for artistic reasons, but for:
a) utilitarian purposes such as an animal painted to use in a hunting lesson;
b)  religious or magical rites such as pre-hunting rituals to gain power over animals; or
c) other cultural reasons lost to the sands of time.
A logogram is a picture or symbol that represents an actual word in a language – not just the idea of it.  This implies that there is cultural agreement that the symbol means this sound or series of sounds, which in turn means something.  So the ideogram you drew for heat could evolve into a logogram if your clan agreed that it meant the word heat – not just the idea of heat.  Logograms are examples of word-writing, and many writing systems used logograms, including Chinese, Egyptian hieroglyphics and cuneiform. 
from the website:
However, all languages include at least some symbols that represent a particular sound or group of sounds in a language.  These are called phonograms, and do not necessarily represent words.  For example, names in Egyptian hieroglyphics were written using phonograms, basically showing how they sounded, and then encircled to group them together.  Every letter of the English alphabet is a phonogram.

from the website