Debates in Art and Design Education

Book Report

Society views adebates-in-art-and-designrt as recreational, a hobbyhorse for those who don’t take life seriously, those lacking capacity to train for ‘worthy’ careers, or those so rich money doesn’t factor in their decisions. In academia, art has often been labeled a ‘labor of love’, meaning that whoever engages in this field does so for reasons other than economic gain. Because societal perceptions set the tone for educational objectives, the aforementioned not only dictates the value attached to art education, it’s the bedrock for governmental policies. This ongoing dilemma is the focus of the recent anthology Debates in Art and Design Education, edited by Nicholas Addison and Lesly Burgess.

An anthological analysis by art education professionals, the book juxtaposes the different ideas in carefully organized sections and chapters. Though every argument is distinct from the other, the overall theme seeks to enlighten policymakers. The authors speak candidly on the implications of societal biases on art education. Theirs is a collision course between powerful opposing forces. Their language is firm and defensive.

Chapter two, “The Hijacking of Creativity: The Dilemma of Contemporary Art Education, makes the point that “globalisation is forcing governments to harness education for competitive ends as capitalism once again begins to morph into yet another form causing instability and market jitters.” Essentially, governments set up policies to steer nations in paths of economic profit. However, legislators as products of society, always exhibit attitudes of their representative cultures. Thus, policies on education reflect societal attitudes towards specific disciplines. Thus, “public education is made a state apparatus to steer the institution towards a direction that would satisfy industry and the job market” (p23).

The view of the authors is that international business behaviors influence educational goals of individual countries. World Bank, for instance, has an initiative called “Education for the Knowledge Economy (EKE)”. It’s tailored to “cultivate skilled human capital so developing countries could compete in the global arena”. Quality is a simple comparison of different educational systems. Art education is required to prove its worth as a condition for funding, where ‘worth’ is the measure of direct economic returns. That’s strange in the sense that not all courses listed under instructive curriculum are quantifiable on such scales. Every piece of literature; every electronic gadget, and every classroom that provides an environment for teaching all other educational disciplines is a product of art, but evaluators of educational programs seem blind to such reality. When powerful bodies, like World Bank, dictate educational strategies for poor countries, it kills initiative and prevents them from developing homegrown solutions for their unique situations. That’s an attempt to unify dissimilar cultural and academic goals of different demographics.

Contrasted to Math and the Sciences, Art studies occupy the lowest rungs. In Britain and the united states, art departments are allocated diminutive budgets. What’s more, policymakers constantly threaten to sever arts from mainstream academic programs. To ensure their unit is not rendered obsolete, art educators are forced to work harder than their peers in other departments. Besides their normal workload, art teachers have the extra burden of fighting to preserve arts among mainstream programs. It’s a case of capitalism forcing nations to apply jungle rules to regulate educational programs.

Ludocapitalism is a word coined by the authors to describe the resulting scenario where artists form support networks. “The networker is delivered from direct surveillance and paralysing alienation… the worker becomes the manager of his or her own self-gratifying activity, that is, as long as that activity translates at some point into a valuable economic exchange; otherwise you are asked to leave the symbiotic network.” In other words, educators in art departments constantly worry about losing their jobs. Unless they can reverse the current societal drift their careers are in jeopardy.

Students venturing into the arts must reorient themselves to the trending attitudes. Design education, with emphasis on skillsets that incorporate digitalized technologies is the ideal. Applications like Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, architectural and video gaming software are a must-learn for aspiring artists. Here, another terminology—edutainment— exemplifies the symbiotic relationships between art and technology.

The title, Debates in Art and Design Education, could be misleading as a plot to rescue arts education from extinction. It doesn’t sound like the SOS it’s supposed to be. The extensive use of technical jargon doesn’t help either. If a book of this nature doesn’t easily convey its critical theme, it tells a skeptical society that art professionals aren’t able to defend their case. That said, the book raises pertinent issues on difficulties facing art education. Although it’s written for policy makers, the wider society could benefit by grasping underlined challenges. For parents and their school-going children with an interest in art studies, the book provides vital data. I highly recommend the book.

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The Nazi Logo and the Swastika

swastika swaskika2

The image discussed in this blog is the Swastika, also known by such names as Flyfot, Hakenkreuz, Gammadion, etc. The swastika is an ornamental form of a cross, with each of its arms equal in length, protruding at right angles in a clockwise direction. It’s a twisting shape of interlocking right angled, four prong arms. Without considering the inner white spaces, the four black arms form a perfect square. The logo incorporates other elements like the white circle into which the swastika is centrally placed diagonally to form a diamond shape. White spaces between the interlocking arms form rectangles that are slightly wider than the width of the arms. The black swastika and white circle are centrally placed inside a bright red rectangle whose length is slightly longer than its height. This was the emblem of the National Socialist Workers Party (Nationalsozialisten) abbreviated Nazi.

This political logo was designed by none other than Adolf Hitler when he was put in charge of the fledgling party in 1920. Aware of the need to unite the party and nation around a strong visual symbol, Hitler sought out something that would resonate with the people. Germany was reeling from blows inflicted by war and badly needed reassurance. The answer came in an ancient good-luck insignia.

Until then, the swastika had existed for over five thousand years and was well-recognized as a good fortune symbol around the world. To be certain, it’s still a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and other eastern religions. To create a logo for the Nazi party, Hitler appropriated the swastika. Not only did disenfranchised Germans need good fortune going forward after the great war, they needed an easily recognizable symbol to rally around. Also refereed as the “hooked cross”, the swastika is believed to have been used in Neolithic Eurasia.

According to Nazi theory, the Aryan nomads of India had used the swastika in the Second Millennium B.C, and Nazis thought themselves to belong in that ancestry. It’s difficult to make the connection, but Hitler somehow decided the swastika had been eternally anti-Semitic. Elimination of Jews became the clarion cry, a means of achieving ‘racial hygiene’. Transforming a symbol of good luck into one of evil, Hitler projected frustrations of his country towards innocent victims.

Firstly, propaganda was calculated to woo unemployed workers. Economic woes of post war Germany were blamed on Jews. Whoever was responsible for economic hardships was Germany’s enemy and needed to be dealt with ruthlessly. Anti-Semitic notions quickly caught on among unemployed middle class workers. The Nazi logo elicited more hypnotic barbarity than WWI propaganda posters. Adrenalin was high among Hitler’s followers. The Nazi logo seemed to evoke a sense of power and direction. It was bloodbath for the perceived enemy, resulting in the slaughter of an estimated six million Jews!

In his book Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler himself summarizes both the swastika and the philosophy embodied in its composition and design. “In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the Nationalist idea, and in the swastika the vision of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.” Previously, the swastika was symbolic of the sun’s movement. A day is the space between sunrise and sunset, a period that provides new opportunities. In Hitler’s usage, the new opportunity was to destroy a perceived enemy in order for one ethnic community to achieve its economic goals.

The Nazi logo is arguably the most dreadful and nauseating symbol of the Twentieth Century. It’s impossible to look at it without conjuring up the dreadful holocaust of WWII. It should serve as a teaching aid on the power of symbols, of graphic design, and indeed of the printed page. Designers and artists should be aware of these realities and tread carefully to ensure artworks don’t evolve into devouring ogres.

Sources

“Adolf Hitler Biography Military Leader, Dictator (1889–1945).” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Holocaust Memorial Council, 02 July 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

“MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler: Volume 2, Chapter 7 – The Struggle with the Red Front.” MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler: Volume 2, Chapter 7 – The Struggle with the Red Front. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

“The Swastika: A Sign of Good Luck Becomes a Symbol of Evil.” Holocaust Teacher Resource Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

 

Jan Tschichold and New Typography

Graphic design and typography have gone through a tremendous journey since Guttenberg. Movement after artistic movement have come and gone, some reacting against and others attempting to improve on previous ones. Top among design movements that bear revisiting is New Typography, not only because of the professional manner in which its designers went about business, but for its influence on modern day print industry. One name to which much credit goes in this regard is Jan Tschichold.

With the onset of WWI, typography took a new turn. Focus was riveted on war propaganda and it’s easy to see how and why professional conventions of graphic design often took a backseat. Artists didn’t always adhere to professional code, but employed sensational imagery to sway masses for political expediency. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Germany where blackletter type had for so long been a national political instrument. It’s thus paradoxical that Jan Tschichod, a German emigrant calligrapher, would play a significant role in typography. What’s more, his views on type became the basis of his personal safety forcing this arts educator to flee to Switzerland. This serves to demonstrate how typography, as a melting pot for divergent ideas, has evolved over time.

Tschichold is important because, like his changing views, the evolution of typography reflects a wavering aesthetic value of letterforms. Tschichold’s about-turn on New Typography later in life speaks to the instability of ideas in the face of political threat. Unlike some of his compatriots at Bauhaus, Tschichold had sense enough to discern the inevitability of change. But change is a shift from an established position, and Tschichold is the man credited with codifying of modernist rules of design. He instituted non-centered, flash left designs; he taught effective use of different sizes and weights of type for easy conveyance of information, and his influence led to standardization of paper sizes for all printed materials.

In a 1924 advertisement, Tschichold listed principles of New Typography in a how-to instruction manual approach. He wanted designers to use vertical and horizontal grid, rule bars and boxes, white spaces as elements of design, etc. all of which constituted what he termed ‘dynamic force of designs’. To achieve such required contrasting design elements and specific placements of text and images on a page. Beside these rules, Tschichold rejected the use of embellishments and decoration of type, insisting on san serif. He also rejected symmetry, and had asymmetry in its place. Ironically, while insisting on san serif, Tschichold was opposed to the geometric Architype Bayer which was a favorite of many Bauhaus designers. Thus, in creating rules for typography, rather than suggestions, Tschichold reenacted the unyielding intolerance of most artistic movements.

New Typography was an outgrowth of the Bauhaus, a school designed to marge fine and applied arts to achieve architectural prowess. A conglomeration of ideas, including Russian constructivism, dada, expressionism, De Stijl and other movements informed the Bauhaus. Tschichold, a constant guest at the school, and, himself a significant influence in Bauhaus ideals, was acquainted with the progressive nature of art, but he still created stringent rules for New Typography, which designers were not free to break. Before long, a new movement, the International Style arose and begun to dismantle the rules of New Typography as every movement had done to the one before it.

Standards are great, they provide starting points. Standardized paper sizes and typographic hierarchy help maintain consistency. But rules that cannot be broken are the surest way to kill creativity and prevent advancement, and Tschichold gave us both.

Salvador Dalí: The 2oth Century Surrealist

By David Mbué

Spanish born French artist Salvador Dali, was a renowned surrealist artist of the twentieth century. Dying at 85 in 1989, Dali was a household name, thanks to his prolific all-inclusive novelties in painting, printmaking, filmmaking, sculpture, fashion and advertising. At sixteen, his mother died, sparking off a mental disposition that drew out the surrealist in him. His bio at Biography.com states, “Dalí often related the story that when he was 5 years old, his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him he was his brother’s reincarnation.” Apparently, ethereal fantasies shaped his perception of reality from infancy.

At Madrid’s Academia de San Fernando, Dali found artistic ideologies including Classical Renaissance, Metaphysics, Dada, Expressionism, Pointillism, Cubism, Futurism etc. He studied Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez and other notables. He tried styles of René Magritte, Pablo Picasso and the like, constantly affirming, “only after you have perfected techniques of the masters can you develop your own style” (Biography.com). Thanks to psychoanalytic concepts of Sigmund Freud, Dali found a way to mine imagery from the subconscious mind. By manipulating dreams, he obsessed with eroticism, death and decay and pushed reality to theatrical extremities. These became the identity of his work.

the-persistence-of-memory

Date 20th Cent.
Material Oil
Style Period The Western World, Global Revolution, 20th Century, Painting
Description Seashore; large cube pushes into picture-plane at L, truncated dead tree rising from end of cube, limb of tree rising from end of cube; faces of 3 clocks are draped over edge of cube, limb of tree and amorphous object lying in C foreground; back of watch or clock lies on top surface of cube; many ants are crawling on case; rocky promontory extends into sea which recedes into distant sky.
“The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dali
Repository New York: Museum of Modern Art
© artstor.org

For all his prowess, graphic design wasn’t one of his notable skills. However, surrealism as an artistic expression tackles sociopolitical issues via different art forms including graphic design. But he wasn’t just a surrealist; Dali was a superb realist as well. He left hundreds of paintings, sculptures, films and other artworks, but his 1931 painting Persistence of Memory is the piece for which he will be mostly remembered. The painting employs mystical imagery characteristic of his style. Juxtaposed against a setting sun is a heat scotched wasteland. A rocky ridge is on one side and a sea at the horizon line. Three clocks melting in the heat are centrally placed in the image. One is melting around the dry branch of a dead tree. The dead tree seems to have sprouted on top of a solid rectangular block at the lower left corner.  Half of the other clock melts down the side of the block, while the third melts above the carcass of a bizarre creature. The creature resembles a dead bird with exaggerated eyelashes and a wide open beak. The beak resembles a human nose. A smaller rusty clock resting on the solid block at the bottom left does not appear to melt. Instead, tiny black ants gnaw away at it. Behind the dead tree is another rectangular block like a solid metal plate shimmering under the heat.

The carcass, wasteland, dead tree, and ants represent death and decay. Melting clocks point to wasted time and everything that is subject to time. The color tonality is deliberately dreamy, the presence of water confusing and the entire image open to diverse interpretations. Though Deli established a unique artistic voice, his work is mystical and puzzling. Yet he inspired not only a new brand of surrealist artists but also pop culture musicians like Lady Gaga, top rated cologne manufacturers like Fragrance and other innovators.

 

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Another Look at Gutenberg

A second look at Gutenberg

Stephen Eskilson’s “Graphic Design: A New History” gives us limited information on the individual Johannes Gutenberg. The text does mention that the German publisher of the famous Gutenberg Bible was a business minded goldsmith from Mainz. It does also inform us that Gutenberg’s printing press was a modified winepress, that Gutenberg combined elements that others had already invented to create a singular printing machine and that the new technology culminated in an explosion of book printing at significantly reduced speeds. What we don’t learn from Eskilson is who Johannes Gutenberg was, what stroked his curiosity, and even more importantly, how local vernacular contributed to his invention.

Gavin Moodie, in a paper titled Gutenberg’s Effects On Universities raises important points on the role of language in the developing technology. He notes that Latin had been the language of instruction, and retained scholastic prominence half a century after the invention of the printing press. “Latin persisted partly because many languages were rarely learned by foreigners, such as Dutch and even German” (Moodie). That implies that someone interested in any academic exploration had to first become a linguistics student. Not only did such a situation enhance class divisions among peoples, it also curtailed progress in many respects. Disseminators of religious doctrines, for instance, had to translate text from Latin to local vernaculars or their audiences wouldn’t understand.

Bible reading was not part of everyday practice, neither for the clergy nor for the laity. Gutenberg’s incentive to print the Bible must have had its origin in a personal experience outside of his Mainz community.