The Sentinel

"We think we no longer love the dead because we don't remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears." - Proust

Objects can be silent witnesses to events, set out in anticipation or ringing with the tones of something long past. In noir films, the atmosphere bleeds its memories or its tensions. The sentinel-like quality of objects is expressed in this way, waiting for the moment of impact.

Propaganda to the People

This week on ART IS EVERYWHERE we're taking a proper gander at propaganda.

Quite a few iconic images have come to the popular consciousness through propaganda:

With all the resources that governments have, what visual languages have they developed to be the most persuasive? The most popular Soviet propaganda aesthetic (see the 4th image above) was born on the heels of Constructivism, a Russian art movement that believed in creating art for social good, and Russian Futurism, the Russian "subgenre" of a primarily Italian art movement emphasizing the speed of modern urbanized life.

Russian Futurists (the political ones) saw the Russian Revolution as the political solution to leaving the bland, doddering art and philosophies of the past behind. As the name suggests, they were all about the future. The Constructivists came after WWI, and were much more politically active. They famously worked on designs for the post-revolution Bolsheviks, helping out at public events and with public artworks.

The ideals embedded in the Constructivist/Futurist aesthetic-- of the forward march, and the idealization of the future, was something that the early post-revolution government capitalized on in creating their imagery for the public. We now associate this look with the events, good and bad, of that time.



This poster by El Liss  itz  ky depicts the Bolsheviks penetrating the White Movement during the Russian Civil War:   Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge , 1920

This poster by El Lissitzky depicts the Bolsheviks penetrating the White Movement during the Russian Civil War: Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1920

Bauhaus All Around: Seriously, It's Everywhere

"Wassily Kandinsky wrote extensively about composition – how objects relate to one another on the page, and how to guide the viewer’s eye. Paul Klee's entire career was virtually an exploration in colour theory – how the use of a colour can provoke an instant, desired reaction in a viewer’s mind, and how that can change their perception of what is presented to them. Herbert Bayer broke down typography into as few geometric shapes as possible, paving the way for ‘Grotesk’ fonts to become accepted as the more standardised Sans-Serifs that we all know and overuse."

Here are some big names involved in Bauhaus at its inception.

Paul Klee

Wassily Kandinsky

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Piet Mondrian

Marcel Breuer

(the last picture is the Whitney Museum built in 1966; now owned by the Met since the Whitney moved)

Even the White City of Tel Aviv was built in the 1930s in Bauhaus style.

Just by looking at this collection of work, you can identify the lineage of the Bauhaus aesthetic as you walk down the street, open up a magazine, sit around your own house or travel the world. It's not just an aesthetic though, but a philosophy towards art and design-- that it should be unified in craft, form, and use, focusing on economy of space, and an elegance in simplicity. Staatliches Bauhaus meant the ability to merge all these aspects into a singular principle to guide the design of buildings, cars, chairs, computers, lamps, lipsticks, jackets, paintings and sculptures. Pretty neat, don't you think?

Bauhaus All Around

This week we'll focus on the Bauhaus-- a German art school that existed basically between WWI and WWII, where craftsmanship and an artistic philosophy of simplicity and practicality came together to produce things like this:

(The yellow and red thing is a magazine holder.) In contrast, chairs and tables before the Bauhaus school often looked like this (Art Nouveau, centered in France/Germany):

The Bauhaus "look" came from emphasizing functionality and manufacturability; "form follows function." They were shut down in 1933 by the Nazi party for being a suspected stronghold of communist ideology, but continued to influence design worldwide.

Ikea wouldn't be the same without it. Imagine how that alone would change the look of your apartment!


Surrealism in Advertising: Pt. II- The Fetishized Object

Optical illusion, visual metaphor, ironic imagery, sexual undertones... all hallmarks of the Surrealist aesthetic.

Modern advertising is full of suggestions that the possession of or association with the object lifts you out of this world, into the next.


What did you think "retail therapy" really was?

Surrealism was an art movement begun in the 1920s, and led by a Frenchman named Andre Breton, to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality." Initially it was applied to literature, but has since manifested in many mediums from painting to film, advertising and music videos. Some of its most famous members were Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray (work below).

The elements of surprise, mischief and psychological depth all played very well into the commercial space.

Advertising, especially fashion photography, has created a new version of the "fetishized object," presented in a surreal or otherworldly way, and imbued with qualities beyond it such as sexuality, luxury, status, comfort, safety, energy, rebellion, and so on.

"The Surrealist object was closely related to Freud’s concept of the “fetish.”  The ordinary object becomes a fetish because we project our desire upon it, because we look at it and look again until we cannot stop looking.  The selection of this object, like any Dada object, is random.  And like the Surrealist object, the choice is not as significant as the meaning the human psychology gives to it."

Can you think of any ads that have used Surrealist techniques to grab your attention? The new Skittles ads, for example? Geico? The latest State Farm commercials? The same methods are surprisingly relevant today.