Extra Credit: John Heartfield

Often credited as the founder of modern photomontage, John Heartfield is one of the most well known progressive and Dada artists during World War 2. Heartfield confronted Adolf Hitler using the new montage technique. By using this technique he successfully attracted viewers to his work and bold statements. He started his career as a landscape painter before exploring new mediums such as photomontage. Many of his photomontage pieces reflect politics that were happening at that time, especially Hitler and the Nazi party.

One of Heartfield’s most famous and successful pieces is Adolf Hitler Swallows Gold and Spits Junk (Rubbish). This piece is a portrait of Hitler with a transparent chest allowing the viewer to see the gold coins going from his mouth down to his stomach. It is apparent to the viewer that they are getting a visual of Hitler’s internal body parts as his ribs show a pattern of shadow across the figure. His facial expression is similar to the one he uses when he gives a speech. Hitler is shown with a swastika as his heart, representing his followers and their message. Heartfield uses a sans serif font at the top and bottom of some prints to write the title of the piece, to make it even clearer and bolder to his viewers. This piece directly addresses the dangerous combination of capitalism and fascism.

The main problems that John Heartfield faced in his career and life were the dangerous topics he commented on. By directly joining the anti-Nazi movement, he angered many powerful people. During his life he was physically attacked and kicked out of Berlin for his controversial work. Despite these problems that come with attacking topics like this, Heartfield still inspired many artists throughout history. His new technique of photomontage was bold enough to catch the eye of his audience. He also utilized print and mass production, which also widened his audience. Heartfield’s work operates similar to the existing plakastil, or poster style, that had become popular in the early 1900s in Germany. However, he takes this work to a new level by incorporating his montage and photographs. Bold, sans serif lettering is highlighted in many of his pieces by highlighting the main point he is making in that piece.

With further exploration of medium, current graphic designers could enhance their impact on their audience much like Heartfield did in his career. Rather than dwelling on the “norm”, or more accepted artwork, Heartfield stepped out of his boundaries and created work that shocked those who saw it. Modern day artists could more effectively comment on current events, such as the recent election, by using unique ideas and taking a different perspective on their arguments. Many artists already use their work to cope with negative current events and they could take this a step further and use more refreshing mediums. A main issue facing designers today is the potential of their work becoming stale, and repetitive. If current designers and artists would take more inspiration from John Heartfield’s life they could redefine what design means in modern society.


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