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It is hard to underscore the importance, at times, of an author or catalog describing the work of a graphic artist or for that matter anyone in the arts. The following is from the 1989 Walker Art Center Exhibition Catalog, Graphic Design in America -A Visual Language History, we are quoting here from an essay “Changing Technology Changes Design”, written by the scholar Estelle Jussim:

” While technological determinism cannot completely explain the interconnections between graphic process and graphic design without considering the all important context of social and economic demand, certain inventions, like that of photography, ultimately transform not only art and information but also the societies in which they appear. Just as Gutenberg’s typographic inventions spread the written word though out the Western world, so did the application of photographic technologies to printing make possible the mass distribution of images. The transformations of still photography into motion picture, television and digitized images via the computer have made us the most visually oriented society in history.” In the paragraph before this one, she makes reference to an iconic figure in the media in the 1960’s and 70’s, Marshall McLuhan, who accurately predicted the connected electronic society almost 30 years before it actually happened. Continuing  her essay; “While still photography, interpreted and reproduced by screened halftone processes, continued to dominate book and magazine publication, billboards and posters, another medium was achieving an unexpected maturity and artistic potential: the cinema.

The Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, had perfected the silent movie motion picture as early as 1895, but it was not until D.W. Griffith directed Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), with their epic panoramas, rhythmic counterpoints, structural innovations and narrative complexities, that cinema was recognized as having significant artistic potential.” The movie Intolerance had four different title cards produced in different types, superimposed on the background images that started each of the four themes in the movie. By 1940, The Museum of Modern Art in New York had obviously realized the genius of D.W. Griffith but also the importance of the art of movie making and the following monograph (below) was produced in a new series of books, The Film Library, edited by the museum. The designer of the cover artwork was no other than Edward McKnight Kauffer, whose graphic work and his posters were shown at the museum a few years earlier.

img609 Now, we can move forward to a new related phenomenon the “Art Book“, not the illustrated volumes of the earlier Twentieth Century, but books produced by artists usually with their own text and images combined, in a large volume and at a reasonable price. Here is a quote from an American Icon:

 “Art shows come and go, but books stay around for years. They are works themselves, not reproductions of works. Books are the best medium of works. Books are the best medium for many artists working today.“ Sol LeWitt

The start of this era and the impetus for these type of books, although not recognized as such perhaps yet today, was the coming onto the market of this book in 1967.

The book, The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan was an absolute first. Steven Heller offers us an insight in his essay that is just titled like the book above, on pages 191-193.

img837In his seminal book Design Literacy Understanding Graphic Design, that Heller coauthored with Karen Pomeroy in 1997 he wrote the following about McLuhan’s book: “the massage heralded a number of firsts: the first time a paperback preceded the hardcover edition into the marketplace; the first time such cinematic visual pacing was applied to American book design; the first book coordinated by a ‘producer’ Jerome Agel, who takes credit for orchestrating its ‘sound and music’. And although not a first, most important was the close conceptual relationship between designer and writer-like those of Lazar El Lissitzky and Vladimir Mayakovsky, John Heartfield and Kurt Tucholsky, Gyulas Williams and Robert Benchley. Although the collaborators were not in constant contact during the concrete presentation of McLuhan’s often complex (and contradictory) ideas was made accessible.”

img833The book designer Quentin Fiore had been a student of the painters George Grosz and Hans Hoffmann.

img836img834Marshall Mc Luhan was a distinguished professor at the University of Toronto with a number of higher education degrees after his name, and the book became a must read for anyone involved with what McLuhan dubbed the Electric Age and with new communications media like television and computers.

img835McLuhan claimed contradiction was endemic to contemporary life the effects the electric age had on societal behavior.

img832In the Youtube video below you will be able to watch and hear Marshall McLuhan explain what he meant by the title of his book The Medium is the Massage in the first vew minutes of the video. It is quite brilliant and enlightening and a must see in today’s world. Thanks goes to mywebcowtube for uploading this phenomenal piece for us to learn and enjoy. This video runs just under one hour. You will not be disappointed!

In the last few years of the Twentieth Century, some of his “prophecies” were made to come true with new media and communications tools like Facebook and Twitter just to name two.

opinion:The introduction of the Google computerized glasses in the near future, will be a step towards the appearance of the integrated man-machine, part human through reasoning and part bionic in nature. The eye and mind will be continuously watching life’s day to day movie-like events in a 24 hour connected world. Here personal privacy will have ceased to exist. This will throw us back into a sort of tribal world with tribal leaders not necessarily politicians, before privacy was invented, in the age of printing through the invention of Gutenberg’s type.

We have arrived in an era dating back before the need for private space to read in a concentrated fashion, the physical building of libraries and “study spaces”. This will move us away from public sacral and private sacred space in a society that is more concerned with knowing everything about everything and everyone, yet having less control over their “own space” mentally and physically. This will cause a continuous state of anxiety in people leading to an unbalanced judgment and the need  to be current on everybody’s affairs 24/7, in order to feel part of the whole. You can actually hear some of Marshall McLuhan’s original lectures and read about his life and influence on this website: Where the author Tom Wolfe does a wonderful job in narrating the introduction.

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