Graphic Design History
Graphic design: space and power.
The process of graphic design refers to the creation of various sign systems. These signs are to be interpreted as standing for something else. Their value is therefore symbolical and beyond the physical representation there is a concept or idea that must be understood. However, meaning is not created in an arbitrary manner, but according to conventions which depend on the society one finds himself in (the cultural differences make the same sign system be interpreted differently, just like they impose a different appreciation of values).
In the early centuries, as graphic design systems emerged and developed, knowing and understanding them meant having access to culture and hence, to power. For example, people were taught which are the social norms and conventions through stories and myths such as the Iliad.
Signs also had an intrinsic value. For example, a stone which was carved with an inscription in Latin was a symbol of the political and cultural expansion of the Roman empire. It was not even necessary for one to be able to understand the literal meaning of the inscription, since its symbolical power was strong enough to mark a territory and transmit a clear idea about a certain entity.
The status of a person expresses the power one has in society. This power is to be interpreted in relation with the public and private space, or more generally said, the social space. Both Greece and Rome were societies marked by great hierarchic differences. The architectural differences supported the differences of status between the patrician and the plebeian classes. For example, a funeral monument carved in stone could be symbolically interpreted as the mark of a certain position in the social hierarchy. Especially in the Classical period one must underline the direct connection between graphic design, space and power since the most important medium for writing was represented by stones and monuments which were outdoors and available as a visual code for everybody which had strong connotations in the cultural and political areas.
Graphic design, a symbol for democracy and citizenship.
The classical period differed greatly from the centuries which followed. The fall of the Roman empire and the constantly growing importance of a religious instance personified by the Catholic church had important consequences upon the development of the European societies. One of the elements which played an essential role in securing power for the church was the very production of written material. Written material was synonymous for culture, therefore it is safe to say that the church had control upon culture. Especially during the Medieval times, one ca speak about graphic design as the main supportive element for the process of communicating power.
Culture was synonymous to power because only the people with a certain social status had access to culture. The access to culture represented an opportunity to become wiser and have a better understanding of the self and of the surrounding world. It contributed to the ability to maintain or even to surpass the already achieved social status. However, it was only a limited elite who has access to this world. Once the use of paper became popular and printing was invented, culture was no longer the prerogative of privileged few, but a gift for the masses.
Common people suddenly had access to printed material so the ideas of the scholars could now be communicated to everybody. Culture became “popular” and the ordinary citizen now had the opportunity to learn the same things that a rich man learned. This contributed to a development of ideas and also of the will to self-expression. People not only could read what others believed, but also express their opinions regarding any of the aspects which they considered to be important. The social and political life were some of the most important areas because they dealt with the rights and liberties of the people. The Gutenberg galaxy brought about the circulation of knowledge and this was one of the most important elements which supported the development of democracy and also citizenship as its very expression. Especially during the renaissance period, this development recorded by technology supported the very development of society as it was backed up by a revolutionary approach to man and life. Various areas ranging from engineering to banking underwent important changes and the existence of the printed graphic design was a supportive element.
But graphic design is not only about text, naturally it refers to images as well. These too underwent a complex process of transformation and especially during Renaissance times they became carriers of meaning which went beyond aesthetics and reached the political ideologies. As time passed and society developed, so did the forms of graphic design. Nowadays, their very multitude and variety represent expressions of freedom and individuality.
The communities of belief
The communities of belief represent groups of individuals which function as a community and think of themselves sin this way. The criterion which unites them is not a geographical one, but one which belongs to the sphere of beliefs. People have their ideas formed based on knowledge and knowledge is supported by reading. Common reading led to the creation and expression of similar beliefs and attitudes, hence the idea of a community of belief. The fact that ideas could circulate publicly contributed to the creation of the public sphere, the very scene of debate regarding political, social and cultural aspects. The power of the people increased as they could create bonds with each other despite the geographic distances which separated them. The newspapers and the journals contributed to the creation of the communities of belief and supported freedom of expression (hence democracy).
People could act as citizens because they had the means to do it. In addition, the fact that the geographic distances and borders were no longer a problem meant that an idea could circulate on huge distances in a short while and find a large number of supporters. This acted as a supportive element for change as well. Not only this, but it helped people fight for their rights and liberties and build a truly free and democratic society. Public opinion gained its force supported by the power of the press.
Now and then. The medieval monastic scribe vs. The contemporary graphic designer.
The role of the monastic scribe from the medieval times was to copy the writing from an already existing manuscript unto another. In a time when books could be found in a very limited number of copies, the importance of the work undergone by the scribe becomes more relevant.
It might be argued that the work that a scribe had to do is mostly mechanic, since all he had to do was copy a text. This may be true to a certain limited extent. The truth is that there was a thing such as the copying technique which varied from scribe to scribe. In addition, the scribes had personal approaches to their work and many times used their creativity in order to make sure the end result would be perfect. Decorative letters were example were used very frequently, just like various designs and motifs ranging from flowers to animals. These styles were communicated from one geographic area to another and scribes got inspiration from each other. As time passed by, certain styles became the norm and consequently the creativity of a scribe became less appreciated while his ability to accurately imitate a canonized form became the most appreciated quality.
I believe that the main difference between the medieval scribe and the contemporary graphic designer resides in the emphasis which is put upon creativity. The scribe was mainly an imitator while nowadays the graphic designer must be a creator. The scribe’s duty was more or less limited to the “text.” Nowadays, the impact of a text must be supported by visual elements which make an idea more attractive, more easily recognizable and more easy to remember. The text that the scribe had to deal with was meant to transmit ideas and feelings, but the most important thing were the ideas. Nowadays, the role of the graphic designer is to produce an emotion which is strong enough in order to make the idea even stronger. People who, in the Medieval times had contact with a text “produced” by a scribe were supposed to learn. The “text” that the contemporary graphic designer produces is most often meant to sell. This means that the stake is higher and the involved mechanisms much more complex. The scribe had to deal with letters and his options were limited. The situation could not be more different compared to nowadays when the graphic designer has to deal with everything from colour to font style, size, etc. under the circumstances in which his options are overwhelming from a quantitative point-of-view.
5. Conclusion believe that graphic design and its forms changed not only the thinking patterns of humanity, but has also contributed to the development of the society itself since it has always been an element which supported freedom and freedom of expression. As society develops at all possible levels, so do the forms and types of graphic design which become richer and more valuable.
Drucker J., McVarish E. (2008) Graphic design history. Prentice Hall
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