Postmodern Culture essay

The post-modern movement can be described as a revolutionary time as prior modernist traditions were questioned and dramatically changed. Life as modernists saw it changed in many major global ways. This vast change in lifestyle began what eventually became the diverse cultural condition that was post modernity. These widespread life changes influenced the trend of visual culture as expression and variety was once again reflected in the arts. Visual culture began to ignore modernist trends and started to include the idea of individual expression. Trends starting with supermannerism, supergraphics, new-wave typography through to retro and vernacular design were the main advances of visual culture during the post-modern time. This immense variety of style was widely explored and continued to grow, develop and challenge the norm therefore earning the phrase ‘anything goes’.

Modern culture had to give way for a new form of expression and way of life. Global issues such as international communications, immigration and the rise of minority groups such as feminists caused the beginning of the end of the era known as modernism. Political and social viewpoints were questioned as prejudice and bias traditions were challenged and a new way of thinking seemed to be encouraged. Thus the term post-modernism was widely accepted as an expression of cultural change. The visual culture of this era also challenged modern style as it broke free from the clean cut, sterile trend. The phrase ‘anything goes’ may have arose from the ‘Me Generation’ as the spirit of the 1960’s was one of personal involvement and the self absorbed directions of social activism. Post-modern design reflected this personal involvement by using intuition and chose to place more importance on the right ‘feel’ rather than rational communication.

When discussing the post-modern one must look at its predecessor modernism. Modernist visual culture was based on the removal of fancy, unnecessary decoration, and therefore all visual culture was stripped to the bare essential and focused on the basic elements of shape and colour. This trend thus created a clean cut, sterile feel to architecture, furniture and the graphic arts. Postmodernism put life back into visual culture by the exploration of pushing the boundaries of preconceived ideas. This enabled individuality and created an array of diverse arts. Meggs discusses that during the modern era, graphic arts were thoroughly refined by design schools such as the bauhaus. The elimination of historical reference and decoration, and the vernacular that were strict rules to modernist artists were completely ignored by those that are now called post-modern designers as they once again called upon the very resources that were so deleted to modernists. (p 432)

Post-modern graphic art was abundant and diverse however not necessarily brand new. Designers of this time called on their knowledge of previous works dating from all eras and incorporated what they saw fit. By pushing the boundaries and testing the limits of already existing styles these visual artists neglected the tight trend of modern art and by doing so created a new style of visual culture that was so vastly different than that of the modern one. These post- modern artists and designers had no restrictions to what they could produce and therefore by being daring, such styles as supergraphics and supermannerism were explored and admired.

The first recorded breaks in modern design were supermannerism and supergraphics. Meggs describes how supermannerism arose with the embrace of the pop-art notion of changing context and scale and the adding of the diagonal line to the horizontal and vertical structures of modern architecture. The international style of the machine aesthetic and simple geometric forms were replaced by architecture of inclusion. (p. 432) Soon after in the late 1960s graphic design was applied to large architectural structures, this became known Supergraphcis. Giant letter forms, pictographs and bold brightly coloured geometric shapes , were wrapped around corners and flowed across ceiling and onto floors expanding and contracting space. Such typographical structures were used as a decorational tool instead of literary one. The work of Robert Venturi and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon are two examples of the supergraphic application to graphic arts.

Typography did not only evolve in scale but in order as well through the idea of new-wave typography. New-wave typography suggests a freedom and exploration with text. By questioning the absolute order and cleanness of type Wolfgang Weingart believed the international style had become so refined that it had reached an ‘anemic’ phase. He soon rejected the right angle and worked intuitively with a willingness to explore the untried, therefore causing ideology and rules to collapsed against his energetic approach. Weingart listed Bunny type, for the people type, sunshine type, ant type, five minute type and typewriter type as a identity for the typographic design he created. Another designer who experimented widely with typography was Dan Friedman, he explored that idea of legibility and readability. As Meggs explains, Friendman strove to accomplish work that was both functional and aesthetically unconventional. He would often explore spatial intervals between letters, lines and words and would finish with random solutions that still held a structure (p. 439) Friedmans graphic designs were inspiration for emerging post-modern trends as he explored areas such as, formal structure against spontaneous expressive forms, texture, surface and spatial layering and contrast between organic and geometric shapes. He also rejected the term postmodernism and replaced it with radical modernism, he saw this time as a reaffirmation of the ideology of modernism however altered accommodate the ever changing cultural and social condition.

This new post-modern trend followed internationally as designers in Switzerland saw their ideas explored in America. April Greiman’s work explored the evolution of space and overlapping of forms, diagonal lines and the use of perspective or reverse perspective, floating forms that cast shadows which cause objects to move back and forth form the surface of a printed page. Weingart observed. “April Greiman took ideas developed at Basel (Switzerland) in a new direction, particularly in her use of colour and photography. All things are possible in America!” (Meggs p.439) She also worked with dot patterns or ruled lines to contrast with flat shapes of colour and like designers before her she too worked with the intuitive. Her work held itself together by its ability to draw the eye in and quickly pass its attention across the page. Willi Kunz also experimented with the use of mixed weight of typography, contrasting sizes of photography, the diagonal type structure and the dot pattern. His work was described by Pint magazine as a “quintessential example of post-modern design.” (Meggs p. 441) This style spoke of the arrival of the new typographic arrangement that was seen in many post-modern works.

As new-wave typography became widespread many designers previously working with the international style began to explore the emerging design attitudes eagerly. Preconceived trends were reintroduced then ignored such as the grid, overall space was defined as a field of tension and once again intuition and play were experimented within the design process.

The Memphis and San Francisco schools explored texture, pattern, surface, colour and playful geometry. As the cultural condition went through a wild, immense change and diversity so did the graphic arts. Meggs provides a viewpoint of the influences of the cultural condition by using the example of the flowering of the psychedelic poster. (p. 442) Such posters proved that enormous potential of exploration of innovative forms and exuberant colour existed. The fast emergence of design in San Francisco design schools ensured the reputation of being a major design centre. By the 1980s graphic designers produced work which consisted of textures and decorative geometric elements.

Following soon after, designers went back to history greatly and created a movement based on historical revival, retro. This uninhibited eclectic interest flowered from modernist European design. The words retroactive and retrogarde implies ‘backward-looking’ and ‘contrary to the usual’ The vernacular design term related itself to retro as it too takes characteristics from a historical period this being based on unskilled commercial illustrations and printing, commonplace graphic arts.

Post-modern graphic design was driven mostly by liberation the freedom of expression and intuition and the personal. It revolted against the powerful modern trend which was so dominate in the early twentieth century. Designers felt free to explore vernacular and historical forms in a positive way and incorporated this attitude in their works. A movement of inclusion rather than exclusion and the expansion of possibilities enabled designers to experiment in a unique individual and even eccentric direction. Through trends such as supergraphics, new-wave typography and even, great advances in the field of graphic design occurred. No longer were those in visual culture restricted and bound by rules. Much like the cultural condition that caused the end of modern times and started postmodernism, visual culture responded to the harshness of modern traditions. Some describe the post-modern cultural condition as ‘anything goes’ , visual culture, in particular the graphic arts, also somewhat followed that subtext, as so many diverse applications as stated above, were achieved, tried and tested and indeed accepted in the post-modern era.

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