Modernism started as a movement around late 19th and 20th centuries. It rejected the conventional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organisation and everyday life as they felt it was incompatible with the new economical, social and political conditions that was emerging at that period of time. Many distinctive styles can be defined as modernist, but majority of them had very similar values and theories on different aspects of society. It gave birth to a whole array of art, cultural and political movements. Often referred to as an avant-garde movement at that time, it was a loose assembly of ideas. They believed in creating a better world. Mainly consisting of left-leaning political ideology followers, they had a vision of transforming every aspect of the society through the medium of art, design, architecture, literature, etc. During the early 19th century, Europe was marked by a number of wars and revolutions, it led way and gave birth to different movements including Modernism. Modern day historians conceive, that the movement played an integral role and had a big impact in shaping the modern society we live in. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse were part of the movement embracing abstraction in the medium of painting. Bauhaus was one of the key institution that helped define the ideology of modernism in architecture.
The illustrations commissioned for the book “The world in 2030 A.D.” can be seen as a prime example of modernist illustration. Edward McKnight Kauffer, an influential American-born artist known for his unique poster art was responsible for the images. The images were created using airbrush. The form and shape of the images were very intriguing and futuristic resembling robot like characteristics. Block images with a slight hint of light had a metal like effect imitating mechanised future. The book cover illustration by John Heartfield for instance is another image that springs up as modernist illustration. The image simply is of a human like figure but the elements of the body parts are made up of various mechanical accessories e.g. clock, levers, meters, etc. Modernist’s were convinced, technology was the way forward and the image in particular echoed that ethos. The poster designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre for the “Nord Express” was one of the iconic image during the later part of modernist era. The image has certain identical mark-making traits with other illustrators working around same period of time. The poster itself in some sense advocates industrialisation. The bold colours and figurative lines demonstrates the strength of industrialised future. Equality, and the desire to create a utopian world was one of the underlying principles of the modernists. George Grosz’s images often attacked the class system that was occurring in Berlin. The caricature drawings of the elite capitalist bankers and the disillusioned lower class people illustrated the critical problem in the society that made the movement ever progressive. “Arrangement” – New York (1925) was a lithograph print of a heavily industrialised cityscape by Jan Matulka. Modernist architects were fascinated by the idea of simplicity in design, functionality and rejection of ornament, decoration, etc. The image underlines those ethics they maintained.
‘In the field of art the broad movement in Western art, architecture and design which self-consciously rejected the past as a model for the art of the present. Hence the term modernist or modern art.'(http://www.tate.org.uk/collections/glossary/definition.jsp?entryId=174). The quote above initially supports the concept and the motive behind the movement. The movement rebelled against the traditional way of living and constantly progressed to accommodate the present time. Social and political agendas also had the upper hand on driving the modern art scene. At a time when technology was advancing at a rapid pace, modern art was a response to that. Furthermore the gruesome consequences of First World War mentally affected the artists. Charles Darwin’s theory on evolution clearly weakened the perception of the God creating humans and had a huge effect on the movement rejecting religious faiths. The illustrations made around that time reflects the change in economic, social, technology, architecture and literature. Most of the images produced were facilitating the change. Images were used for different purposes for e.g. – commercial, editorial, propaganda, sequential, narrative, etc. Illustrations I have chosen are varied for e.g. – some were used for commercial purposes like “Nord Express”, where as some reflected the socio-economic state of their surroundings. Literature went through radical change during that period of time and book such as “The world in 2030 A.D.” was written predicting the future, so images were required to support the text. Therefore modernist Illustrations went hand in hand with the commercial world whether it be for a piece of text or an advertising campaign. This timeline can be easily observed as a start of commercial illustration. As the industrialisation spiralled out pretty much everywhere and an innovative approach to literature, gave a platform for the illustrators to display their communicative skills.
‘In Grosz’s Germany, everything and everybody is for sale. All human transactions, except for the class solidarity of the workers, are poisoned. The world is owned by four breeds of pig: the capitalist, the officer, the priest and the hooker, whose other form is the sociable wife. He was one of the hanging judges of art.'(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Grosz) The above quote from art critic Robert Hughes gives an insight into George Grosz’s imagination. The ideas displayed on the images he drew can strongly be related to modernism as it shows skepticism of the traditional way of living. A world where the ruling class undermined the workforce, no wonder Grosz’s images ruthlessly depicted the characters in such way. Seeking a change in the socio-economic condition was many of the vital ethic modernists promoted. ‘Modernism seems to define the cultural turmoil provoked by the industrial revolution for most of a century, 1880 to 1950. Its distinctive, perhaps defining, characteristics was a constant search of novelty.'(http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/735.htm) Industrial revolution was one of the decisive factor that saw the emergence of illustrations during the modernist era. Products were produced in scale that had never been made before. Imagery was required to appeal the masses on behalf of the product. A modernist ideology did exist in illustration world but they were more dictated to certain extent by the commercial sector.