Design as Art

 

93-p1010324        Design as Art By Bruno Munari. Translated by Patrick Creagh. (New York, Penguin Books, 2008. 223 pp.).

Design as Art is a book written by the late Bruno Munari, who was an influential Italian designer and worked during the Futurist movement. He spent his career commending modernity and the idea of a total art form. In this book, Munari addresses his thoughts on various design issues and approaches; stressing the concept of functional art. He uses visuals alongside the text to illustrate his ideas, clarifying these ideas and making the book a functional piece of art in itself. The visuals consist of drawn icons depicting the variation in themes of the human face along with pages of illustrated chair designs. Design should be well thought out and accessible in order to be considered effective. His dialogue addresses this as well as the creation of design as a term and the essential role it plays in modern society.

Munari does not have a problem voicing his opinion and clearly stating his position on the issues that fuel the contents of this book. In his early chapter “Design as Art”, Munari discusses the idea that fine art as one once knew it may not be as essential in “culture today”. He argues that art made for galleries only affects a minute group of people and in order to combat this problem artists need to make art integrated with everyday life. Munari believes that artists should kick the idea of their work being an item that is too precious for the average person to obtain and rather use their skills to create work that is for public use. He says that the designer of today does just this. “There should be no such things as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use” (p. 26). Munari has a very Bauhaus way of visualizing art’s functional role in life. He quotes pieces of the school’s manifesto within his own writing. When everything is made with aesthetic design in mind, all things used in life, whether it is tools, appliances or furniture, can be appreciated as works of art. If designers create things in an efficient and beautiful manner, people who use the products will begin to recognize the impact of good design.

This serves as a segue into Munari’s next issue of identifying what it means to be a designer. Who can be trusted with the task of producing items that will have a direct impact on peoples’ lives? Munari provides a very simple definition. A designer is “a planner with an aesthetic sense” (p. 29). Following, he continues with a long-winded explanation of this simple definition to explain that the term “designer” originated in America while the same occupation existed prior in France but was known as ‘esthétique industrielle’, which translates to industrial aesthetics and discusses and how fine art influences applied art. Though his explanations seem overwhelming and a bit wordy, Munari breaks them up with key points that are less abstract. Each key point that he establishes sets up the topic for the subsequent chapter, keeping the book from feeling choppy and unorganized.

bruno-munari-2Munari adds humorous and entertaining elements within his writing that adds a relief to an otherwise very informative text. A notable example of this is in a later chapter that leads with the heading “And That’s Not All…”, where he is interrupted mid-sentence with seven pages of chair illustrations. This chapter questions why designers spend so much time redesigning products and he uses chairs as an example to portray this phenomena. He presents chair design as a problem that artists and architects have not been able to solve, playfully suggesting, “all of their efforts up till now have been wrong” (p.144).

Bruno Munari’s scope of expertise crosses over a plethora of mediums. His work in visual arts includes painting, film, sculpture, industrial design as well as graphic design. He also studied literature and poetry. Munari joined the Italian Futurist movement in the 1920s and his works from this time include a body of useless machines. After straying from the Futurists, his views turn away from uselessness and towards functionality. In his later years, Munari was committed to the idea that design was of the upmost importance in visual art due to its way of connecting art to the public. Munari’s book, Design as Art stresses the importance of producing beautiful items for everyday use. This notion is timeless; designers from any era can use this information as a guidebook for creating.

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Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a small town in northern France. Matisse studied law in Paris and was arranged by his father to become a law office clerk once he finished school. However, while recovering from appendicitis in 1889, he discovered his passion for painting. His mother brought him art supplies during this time of recuperation. She was a painter as well and it is apparent that Matisse learned from his mother and looked to her for inspiration. In 1891, Henri Matisse began his formal art education at the Académie Julian, but left due to their limited teaching structure. He later attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris after submitting multiple applications. Matisse had a difficult time finding his place in the art world and stood out as a sort of outcast amongst other artists. A critical turning point for his art came in 1904, after a trip to Saint-Tropez. His paintings shifted from a traditional Flemish style to Fauvism. He introduces bright colors, strong brush strokes and distorted images into his work. His paintings become more emotionally driven rather than searching to depict the world accurately and realistically. Some of Henri Matisse’s most well-know works come from this time period.

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The Open Window, Collioure, Oil on canvas , 1905

Viewers are less exposed to Matisse’s art that follows in 1914 during World War I. During this time he traded the bright hues for layers of dark color and dense pigment. Matisse wanted to enlist in the war, but was rejected due to a heart condition. Many of his friends were fighting in the war and he felt helpless. His reactions can be seen through his work. Matisse began to create paintings labeled as “more ancient and more modern” (Lifson). Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg is one of Matisse’s wartime paintings. Throughout this painting, he uses muted, dark colors. He also scratches the surface with the end of his paintbrush to create lines around the figure.

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Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg, 1914

Henri Matisse’s work changed with his environment. His responses to places and events are clear in his work. His career as an artist was long-lasting and we are left with six decades of influential work. Matisse produced art through the final years of his life and proves to be one of the most prominent and instrumental artists in directing modern art.


References 

Biography.com Editors. “Henri Matisse – Painter, Sculptor – Biography.com.” Henri Matisse Biography. A&E Television Networks, 8 July 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Biography of Henri Matisse.” Henri Matisse. N.p., 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.

Lifson, Edward. “A Wartime Matisse Full Of Pain And Beauty : NPR.” A Wartime Matisse Full of Pain and Beauty. N.p., 13 June 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Sternau, Susan A. Henri Matisse. Ed. Elizabeth Loonan. New York: Todtri Production Limited, 1997. Print.

A Closer Look at Egon Schiele

 

Egon Schiele was a leading figure in Austrian Expressionism. He is most prominently known for his paintings and drawings of grotesque nude figures. However, Schiele also worked as a designer, creating many posters during his career. Elongated and distorted figures were ever-present throughout the various mediums he worked in. Egon Schiele worked alongside Oskar Kokoschka, who was another important artist in the Expressionist movement. The two were protégés of Gustav Klimt and studied at Kunstgewerbeschule.

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Egon Schiele, Musik Festwoche, 1912, Lithograph Poster

Both Schiele and Kokoschka use self-portraits religiously throughout their works. Art Nouveau elements are seen in their work through the usage of lengthened bodies and hand lettering. However, the incorporation of self-portraiture made the art more personal by delving into the artist’s sense of inner awareness. The quality of representing an existing person rather than a symbolic figure caused the overall mood to be inherently more expressive. The quote from Peter Selz does a great job explaining this correlation when saying “…Frequently, where symbolism merely suggests and understates, Expressionism exaggerates and overstates” (qtd. in Eskilson 92).

Egon Schiele was no stranger to tragedy. His life was short and jam-packed with a great deal of unfortunate circumstances. Schiele was forced to deal with calamity at a young age. His father died from a syphilis infection when Schiele was fourteen. In his later years (later being the young age of 28), Schiele’s pregnant wife died of Spanish influenza and he died of the same disease just three days later.

At the age of 17, Schiele was painting traditional landscapes and scenes that were deeply rooted in modes of academia. Here is an example of a work by young Egon:

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Egon Schiele, Village with Mountains, 1907, Oil on Paper

As you can see, these images are jarringly different from the works he is best known for. Harsh images addressing sexual themes as well as death were commonly depicted in Schiele’s later work. They were seen as controversial and rejected by many. His shift in style further supports his role as a major artist contributing to the Art Nouveau movement. Artists were striving for new ways to apply materials.

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Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Raised Arms, 1914

 


 

Boyd, William. “Egon Schiele: A Graphic Virtuoso Rescued from the Wilderness.” The Guardian. N.p., 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Eskilson, Stephen J. Graphic Design A New History. 2nd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2007. Print.

“Egon Schiele Biography.” Egon Schiele: The Complete Works. N.p., 2002. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Fischer, Wolfgang G. Egon Schiele. Trans. Michael Hulse. N.p.: Benedikt Taschen, 1995. Print.

“German Expressionism: Works from the Collection.” MoMA: The Collection. Museum of Modern Art, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.