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The Use of Modern Art Elements in Graphic Design Pixabay

The Use of Modern Art Elements in Graphic Design

Written by  The Dubrovnik Times Feb 15, 2024

Graphic design and modern art have always had a close relationship, with innovations in modern art spurring new directions in graphic design. Over the past century, several movements and styles within modern art have been particularly impactful on graphic design. Understanding how elements from modern art have been incorporated into graphic design provides insight into how graphic designers draw inspiration and evolve the visual landscape.

Cubism’s Fragmented Perspectives

Cubism, pioneered by Picasso and Braque in the early 20th century, depicted subjects from multiple, fragmented perspectives rather than traditional single-point perspective. This approach required the viewer’s interpretation and introduced ambiguities through distorted angles and overlapping planes. In graphic design, cubist-inspired compositions similarly rely on geometric shapes, abstracted imagery, and multiple vantage points.

This multi-perspectival approach brought more visual dynamism and depth to graphic design layouts compared to more straightforward arrangements. The cubist echo is clearly seen in modernist poster designs with bold shapes and letters depicted from diverse angles.

Surrealism’s Unexpected Juxtapositions

Emerging between the world wars, Surrealism sought to capture the irrational world of dreams and the unconscious mind. Surrealist artists like Dali created startling and mysterious imagery by juxtaposing unexpected, often disjointed elements. This unreal, dreamlike effect translated powerfully to graphic design in the form of composite image-making, where designers combine elements into new hybrid forms.

For example, early 20th-century graphic designer Ernst Keller interspersed unrelated images like fish, bottles, and architectural structures almost like visual free association, conveying imaginative ideas in posters and advertisements. Contemporary designers continue to use uncanny combinations and digital manipulation to give images a classically surrealist touch of the bizarre and thought-provoking.

Constructivism’s Abstract Geometric Focus

Beginning in Russia in the early 20th century, Constructivism is marked by a pared-down, abstract geometric style putting great focus on shape, colour and composition with social and political undertones. As an early modern art style, it informed the Bauhaus school’s philosophy on design serving society which then influenced the engineering-driven mindset used in corporate identity graphic design programs. We see this mechanical, engineered advertising style used for technology and manufacturing companies that uses precise lines, simplified imagery and a limited colour palette to project uniformity, efficiency and seriousness.

The constructivism ideology emphasising art’s functionality for social purposes rather than pure aesthetics alone steered graphic design to craft deliberate messaging for collective needs over artistic expression.

Pop Art’s Brandification

Pop Art in the 1950s-60s, spearheaded by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein among others, injected commercial art imagery like comic strips, advertisements and product packaging into fine art. Colourful, mass-produced consumer objects became subjects of commentary on popular culture. Graphic design in turn readily absorbed inspiration from Pop Art’s absorption with consumer goods.
Today, graphic designers regularly mimic commercial packaging forms like bottles, cans and boxes in flatter, minimalist icons that are easily recognised visual shorthand. Sanitised impressions of commercial objects provide casual brand familiarity similar to Pop Art’s reprinted photographs and the Ben-Day dot printing technique used by Lichtenstein. Packaging-inspired icons translate various industry niches into graphic languages that are comfortingly familiar in an increasingly commercialised culture.

Street Art’s Rebellious Spirit

Contemporary graffiti art pioneers like Banksy bring the avant-garde act of creative vandalism to public spaces and establishment landmarks, delivering often politically charged text-based messages with stencil or poster art. Their rebellion against official regulations by creatively hacking unauthorised spaces inspires graphic designers to also skirt assumptions for more impactful communication. Graffiti-inspired typography that appears almost spray painted is widely seen today in display fonts, poster designs, and advertising.

With its provocative edge and diversion from formal design rules, graffiti art influences graphic designers to be more daring and unconventional to capture attention rather than opting for safe, expected options. It pushes graphic communication closer to individual expression rather than mass standardisation.

The melding of fine art styles like cubism, surrealism and pop art into vibrant new graphic interpretations has kept modern graphic design closely connected to artistic innovations. As shapers of visual culture, graphic designers both integrate and perpetuate avant-garde artists’ essence into society's commercial communication streams by condensing their provocative explorations into more accessible, functional expressions.

Graphic design essentially acts as a bridge between fine arts' experimentation and audiences who engage with manufactured products on a daily basis. Ongoing incorporation of fine art influences continuously stretches the graphic language's vocabulary to meet new challenges in visually captivating target viewers and transmitting messages effectively.

This allows graphic design to progress in step with a public attuned to an expanding artistic outlook, while still fulfilling its fundamental purpose: to compellingly convey ideas and inspire audiences through imaginative visual communication. Tracking the imprint of modern art schools on graphic design therefore offers a window into understanding not just design's shape-shifting tools and techniques over recent history but also evolving collective frames of perception, cognition and visual discourse.

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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