When the term “mainstream” is used, it is referring to what as is deemed acceptable by the masses. “Underground” is a term that refers to something underrated, new, or in other words what is “edgy”. Before reading “The Underground Mainstream” by Steven Heller, I have thought about how impossible it is for anything to be considered underground these days because of the internet. It is so easy and accessible to discover various sub cultures whether it be art, music, media etc. But as I’ve discovered in the reading, anything is underground until it is appropriated by the mainstream. For example in the reading he states “In Europe the Weiner Werkstätte, Deutscher Werkbund, Bauhaus, and scores of other reformist schools and movements that sought to better the marketplace with convention-altering arts and crafts fell victim to their own successes. Their collective goal was to raise the level of both manufacture and design while changing timeworn habits and antiquated expectations, yet their ideas became established. The avant-garde is usurped when its eccentricity is deemed acceptable.” I think this example perfectly captures the relationship of the mainstream and the underground, and how it is relevant to contemporary design. It is pretty ironic how these reformist schools and movements wanted to do something new and innovative as a reaction to the mainstream, yet their innovations became mainstream themselves. Contemporary design can be considered the “underground” in this case, because it is all about being new, experimental and original.
We can see other examples of how the underground blends into the mainstream through music. Take for example the Punk movement. We see what happens when the core ideal of the punk movement contradicts with famous punk bands who have made it into the mainstream. We explore this idea in “Not For Sale”: The Underground Network of Anarcho Punk. by Tim Gosling We can see an example of this contradiction in this statement ” In actual fact, behind the glitz, “pink” saw itself as having an attitude that was counterposed both to established society and to the theatrical rock it had generated. The media stars of the mainstream movement were reviled and heckled for their betrayal of the cause by placing themselves in the hands of the industry.”
Another instance we can look at to see how the underground turns into the mainstream is the evolution of white nationalist politics, or what they’ve recently started to call themselves “the alt- right”. In this case we can see how the mainstream pertains to the majority of white people in america and the underground would be people of color. In this current time in America, white people are becoming the new minorities, and the rise of white nationalism is a consequence of that. In Blood and Politics by Leonard Zeskind, he states ” I predicted a mid twenty first century conflict within the united states as white people became a minority in a nation of minorities and were no longer able to preserve a system of white privilege through majority rule winner take all democracy.” I always thought that the twenty first century was so progressive and I was completely shocked to see the large subculture of alt right people empowered by a bigot president to make themselves more visible in the mainstream media which in turn empowers more people to join them too.
Zeskind, Leonard. “Blood and Politics.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=6Yx1-sBC1VcC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=the%2Bunderground%2Bmainstream&ots=EzoKAzjQGq&sig=55FLdYydyyVf-wLl-nb5QutDgKM#v=onepage&q=the%20underground%20mainstream&f=false.
Gosling, Tim. “Music Scenes.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=zrGa3vYOoZgC&oi=fnd&pg=PA168&dq=the%2Bunderground%2Bmainstream&ots=OVO592E3z-&sig=N__nqhMvCtF8OAw0iA3nCoJnyMc#v=onepage&q=the%20underground%20mainstream&f=false.
Heller, Steven. “Underground Mainstream.” Design Observer, designobserver.com/feature/underground-mainstream/6737.
Words to learn
etymology: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.
agglutination: a mass or group formed by the union of separate elements.
phonemes: any of the abstract units of the phonetic system of a language that correspond to a set of similar speech sounds (such as the velar \k\ of cool and the palatal \k\ of keel) which are perceived to be a single distinctive sound in the language
ineffable: incapable of being expressed in words
ontology: a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being Ontology deals with abstract entities.
quasi: seemingly; apparently but not really.
tautological: A statement composed of simpler statements in such a way that it is logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.
polysemous: Having or characterized by many meanings, as the words play and table.
The Three Messages:
1st message is linguistic ; the captions, the labels. being inserted in the natural disposition of the scene In Western art history, ” en abyme “( is a formal technique of placing a copy of an image within itself, often in a way that suggests an infinitely recurring sequence.)
2nd message is the pure image ; provides various signs aka the signified (return from the market which is a signified itself that implies the freshness of the food and the preparation of the food to make a meal.) Another sign is the the tricolored foods (red, green, white)which are the signifiers, and Italy would be the signified.
3rd message is cultural, the composition of the vegetables and the can and spaghetti in the markey bag are composed in a manner that looks like a still life.
This ad is for sephora introducing their “Identify as we” campaign commercial. The ad shows various people from various backgrounds including disabled , transgender, poc, women, girls, boys , men and the LGBTQ community. While personally I found the commercial uplifting, inclusive and welcoming, a lot of people did not like it. At the end of the video it lists various pronouns, since pronouns are a topic of debate in society, the ad was seen as controversial.
This commercial for pepsi had a lot of people angry because they are clearly pandering to people of color, and activists yet they are not protesting anything in particular. They are using protesting as an aesthetic choice rather than to take a stance. Even worse, Kendall Jenner a white famous celebrity is the one to save the day by simply giving a cop a pepsi. It was a commercial posing itself to care about social justice issues and the fact that there was various people of color in the ad and Kendall a white famous privileged woman was the one to save the day was uncomfortable to a lot of people.
Nike launched an advert featuring the American quarterback Colin Kaepernick who at the time was known for protesting over the American national anthem during football games. He was trying to bring attention to the injustices that African Americans face. The tag line says “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”. I believe this ad was successful because it comes from a genuine person who did not do this for the purpose of the ad but out of his own actions.
Marshall McLuhan stated “This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves…” From my understanding, McLuhan is saying that the medium itself has a greater impact on the nature of society and culture than the message that is delivered through that medium. Media is an extension of human beings in that it has become an integral role in how we communicate and how it shapes the social and cultural structure of humanity itself. Take for example, facebook. Through facebook, you can communicate any message you want, but whatever you are communicating is not nearly as impactful as the platform itself. Not to take away the power that content can have, but compared to the medium as a whole, it is less impactful.
Although technology has streamlined communication, convenience, and manufacturing, there are some negative aspects to it as well. Technological progress often means than human workers get replaced with automation. Another downfall is that we are at a point in society where most technology is considered a necessity for day to day living. Not only that, it has changed the very fabric of our communication systems. Basically, we have become too dependent on technology. Marshall McLuhan states “Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message.” What he is saying is the way we send and receive messages is more important than the message itself. What I believe he is referring to is how in this modern age with advanced technology and forms of communication, we are no longer just consumers of media but we also became the producers. The fact that any ordinary person can be producers of content is a good thing, however a lot of people use it to spread hate, ignorance and false information.
Being a designer means being a part of what shapes and influences society. Design is everywhere in media, and we must use that to contribute the change we would like to see. We have a moral obligation to turn down spreading messages of hate and ignorance because the power we hold is bigger than we think.
According to Jan Tschichold, the way we should design should be from a logical approach. To design for clarity and function rather than just beauty. Jan Tschichold stated that the essence of the New Typography is clarity, as opposed to the old typography that prioritized beauty. Jan also talks about designing logically, and had a distaste for “central-axis type”. He felt that this way of setting type was illogical because of the “…stressed central parts from the beginning and end of the word sequences is not usually equal but constantly varies from line to line.” Jan also emphasized asymmetry as a better approach than symmetry because it allows more variety and expression. Overall I agree with Jan to this approach on good design. It is the job of the designer to translate the message through design as effectively as possible and that means editing out anything that isn’t relevant to the message to achieve a clear message.
Karl Gerstner emphasized that to solve a problem, you must be able to describe it. You must approach creative decisions intellectually as opposed to approaching it with feelings. Similar to Tschichold, he prefers to approach solutions with logic. He created the”the morphological box of the typogram”. It is basically a list of all the possible design elements to use. I could see myself using it in the future because I feel like it really helps to see the categories of design and the possible elements to use.
Josef Muller Brockmann is also very similar to Jan Tschichold and Karl Gerstner in that he favored a rational and ordered approach to design. He was a huge fan of the grid, believing that this was the form to achieve effective universal communication. He believes that an a professional level a designer’s work should be clearly intelligible, objective, functional and aesthetic quality that reflects mathematical thinking. Overall, I think that approaching design with logic and a system results in the most cohesive result especially in the field of communications, we must be objective in how we design and not approach it with feelings.
The founder and first director of the Bauhaus was Walter Gropius. He developed his own theory and structure of what “The academy” or education on the topic of art should be. His main concern came from over abundant modern soul-less machine manufacturing that replaced the hand made artisanal objects. He was also concerned with art being less relevant in society which I believe he attributed that to technological advancements in society as well as how everything become so industrialized that the craftsmanship of what it used to take to make objects has left. Regardless of the negative outcomes of mass production he understood the benefits of it and wanted to use it in a way that gave it a bit more “soul”. His aim was to reunite fine art and functional design as well as making them practical, giving objects the soul of the artist.
I agree with the Bauhaus approach to teaching art and design and several other design disciplines together as opposed to separately which was the more traditional way of doing it. Students also learned through apprenticeships which bring back the more traditional aspects that the Bauhaus was influenced from, the arts and crafts movement. This is one key aspect that I believe was a game changer fro students. Interacting with other people from their field, as well as apprenticing under a master in their field teaches you more than what an art school can.
The bauhaus movement was mainly about problem solving and experimenting. We can see that as well in Lazlo Maholy Nagy’s essay “The Typophoto”. He coined the term typophoto, and described it as visually the most exact rendering of communication possible. He came to predict the importance of the combination of words and images to communicate, the main practice in graphic design itself. Herbert Bayer predicted having access to information available and ready whenever needed, and also predicted that people will read and write less, possibly eliminating the need for books. Herbert Bayer was also interested in solving universal communication, and sought out to create a universal typography. Most Interestingly to me is when he talks about Square Span, which is the layout of words by putting them into thought groups of two or three short lines as opposed to reading a continuous horizontal sequence. There was an example of the square span and as I read it, I found it to be much easier to read. This goes to show that any form of communication can be improved upon.
Based on the readings, I could see how the rapid development of technology in the first couple of decades of the 20th century inspired so many ideas and movements. In all of the readings I could tell It was a time full of excitement towards the future where technology is emphasized and celebrated. Some possibilities I think that the authors of these texts envisioned are a world of efficiency, progress, speed and functionality that is available and economical for everyone.
In all of the readings I could see how artists either predicted or anticipated the art and design that would follow ahead of their time. For example, In the Futurist Manifesto by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, his ideals emphasized speed, technology, industrialism and modernity as well as war. In the aspects of speed, technology and industrialism I agree with his enthusiasm, however he was speaking on these aspects in a way where he wanted to take advantage of the technological advancements for violence and war, which he viewed as purifying. In that aspect we can connect how men such as Filippo Tommaso in todays age can take technological achievements for greed, power, and violence which is seen in America with all the advanced military weapons at our disposal and how we can have our way because of that.
In regards to the Constructivist Manifesto by Aleksandr Rodchenko he also emphasized industrialization as well as functionality and economy. He emphasized these things because he wanted to use graphic design as a force that serves society. He cared a lot about social issues and encouraged the use of technology, design and industrialism to change society for the better. He viewed himself as an engineer and inventor as well as a designer. I think his ideal on what it means to be a designer is relevant today because we have all the tools at our disposal to be the inventors as well as the designers. We have the tools to implement change in society and be the communicators for our generation.
In El Lissitzky, Our Book, he too emphasized technological advancements. He actually predicted the continuing of the dematerialization of society. He noted as correspondence grew, the telephone came to be invented. As communication networks developed, the radio helped ease the burden. Dematerialization couldn’t be more relevant in todays society with the invention of the television, computer and internet. He also mentioned being disappointed with the development of the book, how it stays the same as other fields develop with more inventions. I think he would be pleased to know how far we’ve come from books and how much more accessible they are with the internet.