De Stijl style was developed as a reaction to the First World War in the 20th Century. The founders of the movement were Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, who were looking for a cure to the individualism and nationalist pride and egocentricity they saw around them, as a result of the war. Their style was minimalism, and relied upon geometric shapes and abstract themes. IT became the common, universal style for the post-war era.
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist, who worked in areas such as painting, writing, poetry and architecture. He was originally influenced by the early works of Vincent van Gogh. Van Doesburg then began exploring techniques in which he break down an image, and would sublimate the structure of subjects down to their simplest, geometric forms.
‘The Cow’ by Theo van Doesburg (1917)
In 1919, Van Doesburg went on to use this process to design his very own typeface. It was based on a 25 square grid, and relied on geometric shapes and lettering. It was titled, ‘Archetype Van Doesburg’. It is still widely popular and recognised to this day, due to its style and shape.
Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter and theoretician, regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. He was heavily influenced by the work of Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso and George Braque, as well as others. His style used a combination of incredibly simple elements, such as straight lines, right angles, primary colours, monotone themes and the use of grids, the result of these would embody a sense of purity and formality which the artist became most famous for. With the introduction of the De Stijl movement, Mondrian began to express his style in art more freely, and the original vision he had could now come into place. He wanted to derive a composition from an overall abstract view of harmony, rather than a dull, fragment of reality. Abstract, geometric shapes and colours was Mondrian’s most effective language in which he could convey his own message.
The Constructivist movement was developed in Russia, beginning in 1915 by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko. The movement placed art as a practice for social good, and continued to have an effect on social art into the later end of the 20th Century. It aimed to reflect modern industrial society and urban space through its approach.
“Art must not be concentrated in dead shrines called museums. lt must be spread everywhere – on the streets, in the trams, factories, workshops, and in the workers’ homes.” – Vladimir Tatlin, 1918
El Lissitzky was a Russian artist, born in 1890, best known for his work in areas such as painting, typography, photography, architecture and illustration. He began his career by illustrating Jewish books for children, which led him to developing his own series of abstract images called Prouns, which were ‘the interchange station between painting and architecture.’ He later went on to design many exhibitions and propaganda for the Soviet Union, in the early 20th Century. His development of Suprematist art became one of the core influences in the development of the Bauhaus movement. His style and characteristics, and his passion for experimentation, remain inspiration for graphic designers even today.
Aleksander Rodchenko was a Russian artist, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer. Along wit Lissitzky, he was one of the founding members of Russian Constructivism. His work was characterised by unembellished abstraction, and his politically motivated themes and subject matter. He created striking designs for all types of entertainment media, such as book covers, movie posters and advertisements. His very distinctive style used a combination of strong geometric layouts, bold sans-serif typography and photomontage.
“The avant-garde of Communist culture is obligated to show how and what needs to be photographed. What to shoot—is something every photo group knows but how to shoot—only a few know.” – Aleksander Rodchenko
After the First World War, Germany was defeated, and the country was in a state of ruin – economically, politcally and culturally. They needed to rebuild their aspects of life, and so the Bauhaus school was opened in Germany in 1919, where designers sought to unify art and craftsmanship in order to create a new, better future for Germany.
At the school, students were required to take a prelimary course of workshops, which included fields of arts and craftsmanship such as carpentry, metal, pottery, stained glass, wall painting, weaving, graphics and typography. Preliminary courses included Colour Theory, where leading artists of the time such as Paul Klee and Josef Albers went on to teach the fundamentals and importance of colour in design.
Below is the full Bauhaus Manifesto, written in 1919 by Walter Gropius.
“The ultimate goal of all art is the building! The ornamentation of the building was once the main purpose of the visual arts, and they were considered indispensable parts of the great building. Today, they exist in complacent isolation, from which they can only be salvaged by the purposeful and cooperative endeavours of all artisans. Architects, painters and sculptors must learn a new way of seeing and understanding the composite character of the building, both as a totality and in terms of its parts. Their work will then re-imbue itself with the spirit of architecture, which it lost in salon art.
The art schools of old were incapable of producing this unity – and how could they, for art may not be taught. They must return to the workshop. This world of mere drawing and painting of draughtsmen and applied artists must at long last become a world that builds. When a young person who senses within himself a love for creative endeavour begins his career, as in the past, by learning a trade, the unproductive “artist” will no longer be condemned to the imperfect practice of art because his skill is now preserved in craftsmanship, where he may achieve excellence.
Architects, sculptors, painters – we all must return to craftsmanship! For there is no such thing as “art by profession”. There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan. The artist is an exalted artisan. Merciful heaven, in rare moments of illumination beyond man’s will, may allow art to blossom from the work of his hand, but the foundations of proficiency are indispensable to every artist. This is the original source of creative design.
So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.”
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter, photographer and professor of the Bauhaus school. He was later appointed head of the school, where he explored mediums such as painting, photography, film, sculpture and graphic design. He had a strong interest and love for typography, as well as constructivism, and was a strong advocate of technology integration and industry into modern art, which led him to develop an interest in the Bauhaus for visual communication. In his photography, he most noticeably experimented with angled viewpoints, as well as extreme close-ups and bird’s eye views. He disagreed with other artists of the Bauhaus, who claimed that photography would eventually outlive painting, and serve as a replacement. He believed that the two would co-inside one another, helping both mediums to develop. He was correct in this, as we can see today.