Paul Rand: Father of Modern Graphic Design

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When Paul Rand died at age 82, his career had spanned six decades and numerous chapters of design history. His efforts to elevate graphic design from craft to profession began as early as 1932, when he was still in his teens. By the early 1940s, he had influenced the practice of advertising, book, magazine, and package design. By the late 1940s, he had developed a design language based purely on form where once only style and technique prevailed (Heller).

Rand did not set out to be a radical. Trained in the commercial art bullpens of New York City, he thoroughly understood the needs of the marketplace, while at the same time frowning on esthetic standards that impeded functionality. He modeled himself on Paul Klee, El Lissitzky, and Le Corbusier, each of whom advocated a timeless spirit in design, and he adhered to Le Corbusier's dictum that "to be modern is not a fashion, it is a state"(Maeda).

Rand was born Paul Rosenbaum in 1914 in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, and grew up in a family that strictly adhered to the Orthodox Jewish law that prohibited making images. At the precocious age of three, he showed his rebellious nature by drawing pictures of the models on signs in his father's grocery store. His artistic interest was later piqued by comic strips like George Herriman's "Krazy Kat" and Nell Brinkley's comic women in the New York World. He painted signs at P.S. 109 for school events, assignments that allowed him to be excused from "not-so-interesting classes, like gym, math, social studies, and English." Religious issues aside, his father argued that art was no way to make a living, and though he resigned himself to paying the $25 entrance fee for his son's night school classes at Pratt Institute, he did so only on condition that Paul attend Harren High in Manhattan during the day (Pioneers).

Neither of these schools offered Rand much stimulation. In later years, he particularly criticized the teachers at Pratt who made a point of ignoring Matisse, Gris, and Picasso. It was in Room 313 of the New York Public Library where the young Rand educated himself by exploring the stacks of art books. He also credited Gebrausgraphik, the German advertising arts magazine, and Commercial Art, the British counterpart, for introducing him to A.M. Cassandre, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and the Bauhaus (Pioneers).

In the early 1930s, Rand got a part-time job doing stock graphics for a syndicate that supplied maps, advertising cuts, and lettering to newspapers and magazines. He also enrolled in Georg Grosz's drawing class at the Art Students League in Manhattan. Although Grosz, who had recently emigrated from Germany, barely spoke English, Rand remembered that just being in his presence had an energizing effect. From his job and school assignments, Rand was able to build a hefty portfolio to show potential employers. But the quality of the work, he felt, would not in itself assure a position. Convinced that being Jewish was an impediment, he changed his name from Rosenbaum to Rand(P., R.).

In 1936, at just 21 years of age, Rand was hired to layout an anniversary issue of Apparel Arts, a men's fashion magazine published by the Esquire-Coronet Company. His remarkable talent for transforming mundane photographs into dynamic compositions, which did not merely decorate but gave editorial weight to the page, earned him a full-time position. Of course, there was no distinctive Paul Rand look at that time, but a unique sensibility started to emerge with the covers he designed for Apparel Arts. The witty collages and humorously cropped photographs, unburdened by cover lines, were unlike anything on the newsstand. A year later, he was offered the job as art director of the New York office of Esquire-Coronet. He refused, insisting that he was not yet ready. A year later, however, he accepted the assignment and was given responsibility for special sections in Esquire--primarily fashion (Bierut).

In 1938, when Rand was only...
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