Design 'time periods'

ChuckGroth's picture

If you were to classify Mucha as an art nouveau designer and Cassandre as an art deco designer, how might you similarly label Saul Bass and Sagmeister?

Lozz_berry's picture

Post Modern is what I was taught at uni.

Si_Daniels's picture

Ask again in fifty years.

Jackson's picture

Bass is definitely not Post Modern.

ChuckGroth's picture

Would you think they are BOTH post-modern?

ChuckGroth's picture

Would you think they are BOTH post-modern?

eliason's picture

I think Saul Bass wasn't participating in a much larger design/aesthetic trend as clearly as Mucha and Cassandre were, so there may not be an analogous label. For example, I can't think of buildings, or pieces of furniture, that match Bass's approach. (I don't just think it's the passage of less time that makes it more difficult to answer the question.)

oldnick's picture

One definition of postmodern: a term used to describe the period of art which followed the modern period, i.e., from the 1950s until recently. The term implies a shift away from the formal rigors of the modernists, toward the less formally and emotionally stringent Pop artists, and other art movements which followed. By this definition, Saul Bass is decidedly postmodern.

Jackson's picture

Nick, no offense but that's the shittiest definition of postmodernism ever. The implications you draw from it are far too vague to ever "decidedly" define anything as postmodern.

Saul Bass's work is squarely in the New York School of graphic design which was heavily influenced by European modernism.

oldnick's picture

Nick, no offense but that's the shittiest definition of postmodernism ever.

Then, please do offer a better one...

Steven Acres's picture

It's always difficult to label "pioneers" of their time.

For Saul Bass, I'd have to make one up: Bauhausian Postmodernist.

And Sagmeister is postmodernist.

Nick Shinn's picture

Most well-known artists are representative of their eras.
And vice versa.
That's the way that Great Man history works.

Bass was a modernist, working in the "mid-century modern" era.
The hand lettering he favored, contrasted against gridular layouts, can be compared to the texture of natural materials such as marble and wood in the architecture of Mies and Gropius.
His cartesian affair is clearly evident in the title sequence of NXNW.
Film is a grid, imposed on time, formalized like comic-book panels in story-boards.

I'm not sure how representative of their time type designers are, especially if their careers are long.

oldnick's picture

In art and industrial design, the Modern Age essentially celebrated the triumph of Industrial Capitalism; however, this triumph meant that the working man had become subservient to the machine, and not the reverse, as one would expect from a "mechanical bride." The rise of Trade Unionism during the 1930s was a direct response to this reversal of master-and-servant roles. Postmodernism got its name from the poet Charles Olson in 1949, but its genesis was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Everyman's very existence became suddenly very contingent upon terrible outside forces over which he exercised any real control (enter Camus, et al.). Thus, the postmodern outlook is, in a very real sense, atomized and post-apocalyptic. Saul Bass's work can be fairly characterized, stylistically, as post-apocalyptic graffiti; in other words, as utterly postmodern.

bojev's picture

Here is as good definition of post modernism as you are going to find: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/postmodernism.htm

Nick Shinn's picture

Saul Bass ... graffiti

Coprorate graffiti:

oldnick's picture

Hey, a man's gotta eat, but...

...non-corporate post-apocalyptic graffiti.

Jackson's picture

Do you think Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig are postmodern, post-apocalyptic graffiti as well?

oldnick's picture

Do you think Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig are postmodern, post-apocalyptic graffiti as well?

You need to read up on Rand: you'll have him rolling over in his grave, calling him postmodern...

oldnick's picture

and, as for Alvin Lustig...

yup: pretty much post-apocalyptic graffiti...

Jackson's picture

not postmodern

oldnick's picture

Before this discussion devolves into a full-scale p*ssing contest, perhaps we should address the question put forth in the original post. In terms of his corporate design work, Bass fits into Nick Shinn’s categorization of “mid-century modern.” But, in terms of his film title work—perhaps his most visually stunning and memorable—he is decidedly postmodern, as is Ben Shahn. If the Sagmeister in question is Stefan Sagmeister: he and Saul Bass are from different generations, and in entirely different leagues...

John Hudson's picture

Oldnick, I think your definition of modernism may be too restrictive, and hence lots of work that I would consider modernist gets shunted under your postmodernist umbrella. The relationship of modernist art and design to industrial capitalism is decidedly multifaceted and ranges from triumphalism to outright hostility and rejection.

Steven Acres's picture

Bass did design modern-esque logos for "corporate" environments. He did this because when it comes to a logo, simple & effective gets the job done, and is more memorable.

Pretty much all of his posters are obviously carefully planned out (and on a loose grid) yet the aesthetic qualities of the work are clearly postmodern. He utilized lots of shape and solid colors (hence my "Bauhausian" reference) but still played with form and such.

Nick Shinn's picture

But, in terms of his film title work—perhaps his most visually stunning and memorable—he is decidedly postmodern,

Sorry, I don't see that. Bass was a reductive formalist. You can't get more modernist than that.

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963):

Seconds (1966):

Goodfellas (1990, late enough to be postmodern):

There is nothing deconstructive, complex, or ambiguous about these, they are all straight-ahead expositions of the pure power of simplified imagery and typography, which was his forte.

Re. postmodernism, one should follow the generally understood meaning.

cerulean's picture

"Modern" suffers from a lot of confusion and conflation of terms. In terms of art periods, modern art includes the work of Matisse and Picasso, which the illustrations cited in this thread clearly belong with. In particular, much of Bass' work echoes the cut-outs of Matisse, so he might be called Fauvist, which is still modern. I would describe the corporate logos as futurism. Sagmeister is postmodern.

John Hudson's picture

"Modern" suffers from a lot of confusion and conflation of terms.

One of my favourite books of architectural history is Joseph Rykwert's study of the 18th Century, entitled The First Moderns.

Nick Shinn's picture

IMO, the "periods" of art history, (graphic) design history, architectural history, and type design history do not offer an easy correspondence.

The 1830s in London was a great period of "Modernism", and that is certainly reflected in the huge number of new type genres that were introduced, especially the sans serif.

ChuckGroth's picture

thank you, everyone, for this great discussion. a student of mine was trying to create a small piece, loosely around a series of different designers he admired. as it happened, he had chosen mucha, cassandre, bass and sagmeister. discussing it, it occurred to me that certainly mucha, cassandre and sagmeister fell into stylistic 'groupings,' and i was particularly curious as to what thoughts you had about bass. i thought, "hmm. i'd say, most likely, 'modernist.'" but i was keen to hear your thoughts.

by the way, the student has been following this thread as well; this is exactly the kind of thoughtful and informed discussion i told him he would find here.

eliason's picture

And here's what "modern" letters ("Lettera Moderna") looked like in 1524.


Maybe Nicholas Jenson was the first postmodernist!

ihoff's picture

Good question and interesting discussion. Here's my somewhat flippant take:

Saul Bass:Matisse cutouts meets Hard Edge Painting meets Op Art.
Stefan Sagmeister: Performance Art meets Installation Art meets Conceptual art meets Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity).

oprion's picture

Here's a bit of unverified apocrypha regarding Saul Basss:

One of my professors claimed to have worked with him for a few years, and discovered that all of Saul's famous designs were created by another guy working behind the scenes who was shy, disliked public appearances, and was happy to let mister Bass take the credits as long as he was spared the hassle of meeting with clients. Sadly I can't remember the designer's name.

Nick Shinn's picture

Bass didn't do the lettering for his posters.
http://typophile.com/node/31052

oldnick's picture

Through an odd set of coincidences, I took my degree in English Language and Literature, so my perspective on postmodernism tends to deal with the weltanschauung of the period, rather than with specific design trends, whose categorization I will leave to the graphic design majors. IMHO, certain—but not all—of Bass's graphic works reflect that weltanschauung accurately.

dsb's picture

This is a great discussion and I have to say I was swayed a little by oldnick's argument for Bass as a postmodernist. My understanding has always been that he is classified as a modernist from the New York School. But I was always very aware of how different American mid-century modernist graphic designed looked from its European counterpart. Compare Josef Müller-Brockmann and Siegfried Odermatt's work to Alvin Lustig and Saul Bass's. Very different; still modern, just more American— a little more pragmatic, informal, and spontaneous.

After seeing all the examples posted, I would say that Saul Bass's work looks much more like it embodies the end of american modernism rather than defining the start of postmodernism. Which I would say doesn't begin until the 1960's with Glaser, Chwast, Ruffins, and Sorel.

But I suppose that could continue the debate...

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