An Exploration Into 14 Bauhaus Books by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy in Relation to Visual Culture

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ation into 14 bauhaus books Choose EITHER a key image OR one of the other lecture or seminar images from the Making Modernities unit. Discuss it in relation to its historical context(s) including, where relevant, the theme of modernity.

When analysing 'the 14 bauhaus books' by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (see figure 1) in relation to it's historical context, at least 5 components have to be considered. These are: the image itself; the movement it is part of; the artist, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, that made it; the bauhaus- the institute it was produced for and where the artist taught - and how these parts have changed or influenced modern times. My argument is that all of these separate components, the main being the movement of Modernism, made life better for the International populations that welcomed it, through the universal progression that modernism once promised.

14 Bauhaus Books is not a 'pretty' image. The dirty red mixed with the hard texture of the metal type is not pleasing to the eye for any viewer. But then again it is not meant to be pleasing, the image is a brochure cover, nothing more. Although by todays standards it is crude in design, vaguely relating to the brochure that it covers, which does go into detail about some new typographical forms, it was rather advanced for 1929 as it was a Modernist piece – rejecting decoration. No longer focussing on decoration produced a new language of design that could be understood by everyone, including workers in modern industry. Moholy-Nagy followed his own teachings on typography fully, stating that: “Letters should never be squeezed into an arbitrary shape...like a square. A new typographic language must be created combining elasticity, variety and a fresh approach to the materials of printing....” (Naylor, 1968, p.127) This approach to communication through printed material can still be seen today, particularly in adverts which have a very short amount of time to impact on and communicate to an audience. A 'stand-out' type coupled with a few witty lines has found itself at the centre of most printed advertisements today (see figure 2), which, it could be argued, can trace it's heritage back to the modernists ideas of simplicity. We are all now accustomed to this, but back in the early 1900s it was met with fierce opposition and, although new aesthetics were being created, official designers and architects preferred to follow the word of Ruskin who stated: “We want no new architecture...The forms of architecture already known to us are good enough for us, and far better than any us” (Naylor, 1968, p.9) This narrow-minded approach to design held back progress and kept Europe's standard of living the same, which, especially for the working classes, was unacceptable.

From this, modernism rejected the historical styles before it, such as the Enlightenment phase, that focussed on decoration and perceived that 'greatness lay in the reconstruction of the past'. Instead modern designers, in the smoke of the Industrial Revolution, created a new style – the 'International Style'. The 'International Style' had called for change and the change was to blur the class distinctions. The “millions of... home-owners...painted their walls beige” (Greenhalgh, 1990, p52) in an attempt to fit in with this style. This cheap method of interior design, using hardwood for fittings and mass produced light fittings made the 'International Style' available and popular. Modernism created objects that functioned with little or no decoration. These objects were mass produced,widely available and more importantly cheap to purchase. For example the Tefal kettle (see figure 3) which has only the water gauge projecting out of a white block for decoration. This simplistic approach to design was, in the eyes of the modernists, an enhancement of purity. The same could be said for '14 books'. That it's simplicity is it's decoration and that the text is the 'object' needed for its design purpose. Something...
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