Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp is known as being one of the most influential figures in modern art. Although his career was rather short, Duchamp is known as the father of conceptual art and a figurehead in the American Dada movement. His early works are said to be heavily influenced by Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism.

Duchamp was raised in Normandy, France and studied art in Paris, where he became well acquainted with modern art movements. In 1912, he submitted his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris where it became the center of much controversy. Inspired by cubism and futurism, the work shows the motion of a nude figure walking down a staircase. The work was not rejected from the show but Duchamp was asked to either withdraw the painting or to paint over the title on the canvas. He refused and a year later submitted the painting to the Armory Show in New York City where the work was a success, yet still considered to be scandalous.

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Marcel Duchamp,  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

After his experiences surrounding Nude, Duchamp became disillusioned with what he called “retinal art”, or art that was simply made to be pleasing to the eye rather than the mind. Duchamp responded to retinal art with his readymades, which were “ordinary object[s] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”  In 1915, Duchamp moved to New York and soon became affiliated with New York Dada, which was considered to have a less serious tone than European Dada. In 1917, he created his most famous work and readymade, Fountain, which was simply a urinal that Duchamp had signed as “R. Mutt.” Duchamp submitted Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit but it was ultimately rejected after much debate concerning that validity of the readymade as an art piece. After this rejection, Duchamp stepped down as the director of the board of the Society of Independent Artists.

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Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

For fear of repetition in his work, Duchamp created a fairly small number of pieces during his career; however, his impact has been long-lasting. While Duchamp was heavily involved with many Dada artists and influenced by modern movements such as cubism and futurism, he himself subscribed to no particular movement. His refusal to create “retinal art” along with his unconventional readymades have influenced artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenburg and movements ranging from Pop Art to Installation and Conceptual Art.

Howard Chandler Christy

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Howard Chandler Christy was born in 1873 in Ohio. As a young age, with his mom’s encouragement, he started to do sketches and paintings. In his twentieth, he moved to New York to start his career as a young artist. His mentor named William Merritt Chase had a great influence in Christy’s painting style. His artworks had a realistic manner. He started with landscape and portrait paintings and became famous when he turned twenty-five years old. During the Spanish-American War, he worked in the magazine industry and published “The Soldier Dream”, which made his name well known by the public. “The Soldier Dream” portrayed a young attractive girl known as “The Christy Girl”.

“Christy girl” was “High-bred, aristocratic and dainty though not always silken-skirted; a woman with tremendous self-respect.” “Christy’s Girl” was the artist’s ideal American women at that time. During World War I, he showed his support to the war by design a series of propaganda posters. Some of his famous artworks included “I want you for the navy”, “Gee! I wish I were a man. I’d join the navy”, If you want to fight, join the marine”, “The spirit of America”, etc. After World War I, he painted a lot of portrait for the rich and famous people. Later in his life, he painted “Signing the Constitution” in 1940. This famous artwork still hangs in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C nowadays.

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Howard Chandler Christy had a lot of famous artworks. The piece “Gee! I wish I were a man. I’d join the navy” was the most famous work on his “Christy girl” series. The propaganda poster depicted a youthful woman in her Navy’s uniform smiling to the viewers. “Christy girl” represented independent and modern women. Women who are no longer stay in the kitchen or depended on men. Christy’s ideal women are youthful, charming, and independent. They break through the old fashioned opinion about women and set a new standard of freedom for women in early twenty century. Women became the main character in propaganda posters during that time period. The purpose of the poster also encouraged American to join the military. It also used to support the war effort and generated patriotism from young American. Inspiring the troop to fight and protecting the country.

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Work Cited

“Howard C. Christy.” Ohio History Central. Accessed October 23, 2016. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Howard_C._Christy.

 Lloyd, Gordon. “The Constitutional Convention.” Teaching American History. Accessed October 23, 2016. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/christy-about/.

James Montgomery Flagg

The First World War initially began in Sarajevo during June of 1914, when the Austrian Archduke was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. The nationalist resented the Austro-Hungarian Empire and their domination of the Balkan states, retaliating by murdering a major political power from their empire and thus, causing a conflict that quickly broadened across the globe. The conflict between Serbians and Austrians pitted the Serbian Allies against the powers of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey. In April of 1917, the United States entered the war, joining forces with the Allies.

The First World War created an urgent demand for wartime propaganda, recruiting men to join the war, nationalists to support the war, and financial backers to fund the war. This propaganda was found through graphic design in lithographic posters. In the United States, more posters had been produced than any other nation, relying on conservative illustration to convey their objectives. The most effective of them all, and possibly the most well-known poster of all time was James Montgomery Flagg’s I Want YOU for U.S. Army, a color lithograph produced in 1917.

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Flagg originally created the poster for an American magazine, where it appeared on the cover in 1917. The design features Uncle Sam, a personification for the United States, pointing at the viewer, accompanied by the text “I Want YOU For U.S. Army.” Like many American artists during the early twentieth century, Flagg gained inspiration for his poster from British graphic design. Although the “pointing poster” was prominent in many nations during the First World War, the style was developed by British designer Alfred Leete in 1914.

Over the years, Uncle Sam had been portrayed in many different ways. Flagg’s version uniquely bases the patriot’s physical attributes on a combination of tradition and the designer’s own features. Sam has a head of white hair with a matching gotee, a thin elderly face, and is dressed in a blue suit, red bow tie, and star-spangled top hat. The text accompanying Uncle Sam is a bold condensed sans serif, blue with a red outline. The word “YOU” stands out from the others, printed in red with a navy outline. Beneath this statement reads “Nearest Recruiting Station” in a navy bold sans serif.

I Want YOU for U.S. Army was printed over four million times in the duration of the First World War, and was resurrected to be reproduced during the Second World War. James Montgomery Flagg’s legacy lies within this color lithograph, successfully creating an advertisement that directly incorporates the viewer and encompasses American patriotism. The designer is remembered today as the man who designed the most famous American poster ever made.

John Heartfield

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Self Portrait, 1919. Intended to shock viewers in post WWI Germany. The non-conventional portraiture read as “anti-art” at the time, intended for reproduction in an unrealized Dada anthology.

 

John Heartfield was a photomontage artist active during several eras and movements in Germany. He was active in the Dada community during WWI, created radical leftist media after the war, and churned out many anti-Nazi posters during the rise of Hitler. Originally named Helmut Herzfelde, the artist changed his name to the English sounding “John Heartfield” in protest to WWI German nationalism. A large majority of his work has political connotations aligned with the interests of the German Communist Party (KPD). Influenced by both Dada and the Geman object-poster trend Sachplakat, many of Heartfield’s creations were photomontages presented within a distraction-free composition, allowing him to communicate a clear message. His jarring juxtapositions were both eye catching, as well as thought provoking, making him an ideal designer for the KPD’s propaganda department.

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One of Heartfield’s most striking pieces, in my opinion, is pictured above, named “The Hand Has Five Fingers”. This poster was produced in 1928 while Heartfield was working in the agitation-propaganda department in the KPD. The purpose of the department was to gain supporters and illustrate the treachery of capitalism. The photo cut-out of a worker’s open hand displays both photomontage characteristics of Dada and the bold minimalism of Sachplakat. The hand, weathered by capitalist industry, appears to be reaching out at the viewer, demanding attention and urgently requesting support. A red number 5 is printed twice, once to symbolize the five fingers of the worker’s hand, and once to represent the five political candidates that the KPD endorsed. The poster suggests that workers have the power to rise up and overthrow the rich bourgeois industrialists, if only they band together and support this party’s candidates.

Heartfield’s impact on Germany, especially the Communist community, was powerful and impossible to escape. His KPD propaganda was seen everywhere, from posters and magazines, to leftist novels and children’s books. His “Five Fingers” poster sparked the creation of a mutual gesture of recognition among KPD supporters, in which they would greet each other with an open hand as seen in the photograph. In his work during the rise of the Nazi regime, he used photomontage to scrutinize photography, highlighting the misleading nature of photographs as documentary tools. Through the creation of obvious nonsensical pseudo-photos, he forced viewers to realize how photography had the potential to obscure as much as it revealed, questioning the reputation of Nazi propaganda.  Heartfield should be remembered for challenging both political and artistic convention, and for his persistent dedication to spreading a message he believed in. His political photomontages may have not ended the war, but they inspired free and critical thinking among a confused and troubled population.

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A. “Millions Stand Behind Me” transforms Hitler’s statement into a visual pun, criticizing his greed and indicting the German industrialists who are funding his regime.

 

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B. “Hurrah there’s no more Butter!” shows a family eating government subsidized military equipment instead of food, questioning the normality of Nazi military and propaganda being present in people’s private lives.

Resources

Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.  

Zervigon, Andres. “John Heartfield.” Avant-garde Art in Everyday Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 2011. Print.