On Synthesis: Connecting the dots from basic design through multimedia

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been studying the history of British Basic Design movement, and especially, the Bauhaus.It has made me see my own path in art and design in a new way.

Revisiting what I see as the most elemental teachings in colour, visual language, and design has invigorated my curiosity, but it also caused me a lot of confusion. The reason for my confusion was that I was having trouble connecting what I was reading about various artists, methods and art/design approaches from different eras with my own values and personal experiences. Admittedly, my readings and reflections have been a bit unfocused, but share common themes.

Here is a progression of the subjects I’ve studied recently (in some order):

Subject / Source What I Took Away From it
Foundation-level colour studies.
Sources: “Colour: An Introduction” (Hudson/OLA, 1987), “Eye and Brain” (Gregory, ), “Elements of Colour” (Itten, 1970).
Refreshed my knowledge of mixing, contrasts, perception, additive vs. subtractive theories, and in developing personal visual language. Some of Tom Hudson’s colour exercises overlap into explorations of 2D visual language (point, line, shape, texture, etc.) similar to Kandinsky. Ongoing goal is to complete 8 units of study.
Foundation-level colour theory.
Sources: “Elements of Colour” (Johannes Itten, 1970), online resources.
Led me from colour to shape (Itten’s primary and secondary colour-forms) and online and offline reviews of Bauhaus history. Renewed my interest in structure of Bauhaus Basic Design program in the 1920s, and the later UK Basic Design curriculum developments in the 1950s and 1960s. Also researched master colourists Josef Albers and Hans Hoffman, and revisited colour theory models by Chevreul and Munsell, and modern “colour solids” like the RGB colour cube.
Foundation-level visual language.
Sources: “Mark and Image (Hudson/OLA, 1989), “Point and Line to Plane” (Kandinsky, 1926).
Kandinsky’s inspired descriptions of his personal philosophy of visual language. Many of my earliest teachings with Tom Hudson echoed Kandinsky’s ideas.
The Bauhaus, its Teachers and Impact.
Sources: “Bauhaus” (Editors: Jeanine Fidler, Peter Feierabend, 1999), “Kandinsky” (Taschen, 2000), plus online resources.
The social and political landscape of Europe in the 1920s and ’30s, and the differences in philosophy between the Bauhaus’s Directors and major teachers (e.g. Itten, Gropius, Moholy-Nage).
UK Basic Design developments in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sources: Articles and collections, online and offline.
Renewed investigation of my past teacher, Tom Hudson and his role and working relationship with Victor Pasmore, Richard Hamilton and Harry Thurbron. UK Basic Design seemed to adapt Bauhaus approaches, yet applied them to the current cultural context. I pondered this a lot, trying to project it forward to the present day, onto online and digital media, instead of industrial tech of the 60s.
Influences of Basic Design and Modernism on Foundation and Visual Design programs.
Sources: Google searches.
Ongoing ad-hoc study. Most US approaches to “visual literacy” that I’ve seen seem to focus on developing skills in discernment, decoding and judgement (analogous to “reading comprehension”?). Richard Wilde at School of Visual Art (New York) leads courses in visual literacy for his design students. I’m curious to see to what degree developing vis-lit via creation (i.e. “writing”) skills are taught in higher ed, and in high-school art/design instruction.
Current issues in computer-based graphic design, multimedia and web design.
Sources: Google searches.
Ongoing. An online review of graphic design curricula from various institutions will help me understand transformation of issues and themes in previous “modernist” design education, through to today’s highly computer-driven tools and processes. Also curious about how much digital tech (e.g. desktop and tablet computers) is being used in art/design instruction instead of traditional tools in high school and higher ed.

For me, new knowledge  – new information – will only transform my ideas and help me grow if I can use it in some direct way. It must be practical in some sense.


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