The contemporary commercial art and design of today has no doubt been created through the heavy influences of 20th century art. Most corporations who advertise on a large scale look back to the most influential art of the past century when creating their ads. It’s almost impossible to walk the city streets without being bombarded by billboards with crafty designs and catchy phrases. With a little research though, it’s fairly easy to find that the basis of this commercial art can be found in the art of the last one hundred years.
Cartoons come first to mind when thinking about the different ways 20th century art have impacted modern day art and design. Long before I saw the original “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, I laughed at a portrait of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck standing together in front of a farm house with pitch fork in hand. Most cartoons seem to have an underlying humor meant to be understood by even the most articulate and intellectual adult, while at the same time being simplistic enough to entertain a small child. Cartoonists successfully accomplish this by being well read and educated in myth, history and art.
Advertising agencies must be just as well educated in order to create influential advertisements that will impact consumers. “De Stijl” created by Peit Mondrian has without a doubt been one of the most popular designs incorporated into today’s commercial art. On almost every bottled hair care product from Loreal is a composed set of lines complete with red, yellow and blue squares, expressing striking similarities to “De Stijl.” Tommy Hilfiger uses clean lines and the three primary colors in all of his advertisements as well as on his signature label which also mimic the style of Peit Mondrian. While visiting a museum and studying a Mondrian, most of the general public repeatedly remarks to how his paintings look as if “anyone could do them.” However, using the same artistic logic and redesigning his work on a bottle of hairspray or a t-shirt, the public becomes awe-stricken and then rushes out in a mad fury to purchase this stylish product which is actually based on the same style of art which if hung in a museum looks to them like something “anyone could make.”
Advertisers look also to the photography of the past century when designing ads for magazines. Dolce and Gabbana created a series of photos to advertise their jeans which have the same look as the style of photography which became popular in the depression time of the 30’s. The models sit in front of their homes, in everyday clothes, next to their families. The photo is rather high in contrast and looks the subject straight in the eye. The ads evoke the feeling from the consumer that for some reason or another they can relate to the models in the ad. Many past artistic styles of photography have been used to advertise. It’s probably one of the more successful ways to send messages that in some ways may be seen as subliminal. Steve Madden shoes have a photographed advertisements where the girls wearing his shoes have heads close to twice the size of their bodies, sparking some to be reminded of the surreal style of the earlier part of the century. People may or may not subconsciously recognize these styles in the ads they see, but that is not important to advertisers. What is important, is that through the use of these types of ads, consumers feel some recognition and can relate in one way or another to the product, therefore making them more inclined to buy whatever the product may be.
With the creation of Adobe PhotoShop, collages have become the leading method of creating corporate and product logos, designs for billboards, packaging and even common newsletters. Just as Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris did, designers who use PhotoShop gather single images and layer them on top and around each other on one single canvas to create a composition which incorporates many factors into one image. In a collage made by Juan Gris, “Fantomas,” many images are composited to create a message and only a slight bit of text is used to drive that message home. Today, it seems the same exact approach is being used. On a billboard made to advertise for Ford cars, images are piled on top of each other and use only a word or two to ensure the message comes across clear.
Surrealism seems to be quite an effective way of expression. To cause a viewer to stop and ponder how whatever it is they are looking at could be possible in this world is quite powerful. Surrealism in photography is even more effective in causing its viewer to question the photo and reality. Photography is perceived by most people as a scene taken straight from everyday life and reality. When reality is played with through different photographic manipulations though, the whole basis for photography is thrown off as well as the viewer. This has been the style of art from the 20th century which has influenced my personal work the most. In a composited photo of mine, pigeons are extremely large in the foreground and shrink smaller towards the background as well as diminish in opacity. They all stand on what is obviously concrete, however in the background is a hill of sand and brush with a small view of the ocean shore. To me, this form of surrealism has great impact. It’s hard to look at the photo without either questioning the picture or reality itself.
The art of the past century impacts more than just these few areas of life which have been discussed. Through many arenas of life today as well as in the up and coming future, 20th century art will hold a place in history as work that was and still is extremely influential, edgy, controversial and innovative. It’s a shame that the commercial artists, designers and advertisers can’t be just as creative as these artists of the past, but instead base most of their work on that which has been already created. However, it might be a strange world if Mark Rothko and Salvador Dali were your average Joe
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