Dadaism- An art movement? Or a joke?

In the early 1900’s  the concept of controversy was taken to extremes with a movement known as ‘Dadaism’. However, instead of being ‘inappropriate’ due to aspects such as nudity, Dadaists would use humour and ridicule as a protest against WWI in a satirical manner. Their argument demonstrated that they felt that the war was ridiculous and irrational and therefore produced art that rebelled against all rules of art that had previously been made. The whole point of the Dada movement was to be pointless, to have no reason, which emulated their thoughts on the war. The question “what is art?” was deliberated over. Are everyday objects art if they are place in an artistic context? Marcel Duchamp explored this question when he exhibited his ‘ready-made’ artworks, one of which was, simply put, a urinal on a plinth, named ‘Fountain’. This is a prime example of the mockery that Dadaists set out to portray. It suggests that the War was so ridiculous that the art that they produce is normal in such a world.


Marcel Duchamp ‘Fountain’

“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”

― Marcel Duchamp

The film below explores the question “what is art?”. It looks at how ridiculous some art pieces can be, similarly to the Dada artists. However, it does show that this movement of the early 1900’s has had a significant effect on the contemporary art of today:


Lectures by Donna Leisman


Pushing the Boundaries – Avant-Garde

In a world that is constantly moving forward, it is inevitable that the art of the world will do so also. One of the key turning points in art history was around the 1870’s when ‘Avant-garde’ art was established. This was a controversial movement at the time as it tried to contradict traditional artworks in a facetious manner. The urge to produce pieces that would shock its audience was a main aim in this era for some artists. Some works were so controversial that the Salon de Paris refused to show them. One example of this is Edouard Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe’.

Edouard Manet "Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe"

Edouard Manet “Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe”

If we were to view this piece for the first time now, we would have a completely different view than what was of the past. Art critics of the Salon found it far to controversial, the barrier between ‘nude’ and ‘naked’ had been broken. The woman in this piece is not posed in the glorified position of a Goddess but instead looks directly at the audience, making it clear that she is aware that she is being looked at and is not perturbed by that fact. The objects surrounding her are not staged, but instead are strewn around, accompanied by fruit falling out of the picnic basket and a blanket coiled  around her ankle. Although this was a controversial piece of the late 1800’s and some art critics of the time very much disapproved of it, we must appreciate the fact that without pieces like this, art would not be the same as it is today. This act of breaking societal norms within the era have inspired so many artists since. The boundaries of art are constantly being pushed further and further to provoke thought and reaction. So when we hear of a man publicly nailing his scrotum to a cobbled street in Moscow as ‘a metaphor for the apathy in Russia’, some may  be shocked and appalled now, but who knows, future generations of artists may relish in the effects of such a piece.


Lectures by Donna Leishman

Fairytale Origins- Little Red Riding Hood

We all know the story of  Little Red Riding Hood, usually Charles Perrault’s version, as little girl who ventures to visit her grandmother who lives in the woods, but is tricked and eaten by a wolf. The moral of the story being, don’t talk to strangers. However, some of the original versions are far darker, and not quite as suitable for younger audiences. Here is  a link to one of the earlier version of this tale:

There are many ways of analysing this story and breaking down its symbolism, however, after looking at the story myself, I found  that it could be taken as a metaphor for the process of coping with death. A young girl experiencing death of a loved one for the first time and how she deals with it.
She arrives at her grandmothers house to find her dead, obviously a frightening experience for anyone, let alone a young child, so death is portrayed as a wolf which has always been a symbol for something frightening. The eating of her grandmothers flesh and blood symbolises her taking in the fact that her grandmother is dead, processing what has happened. When the wolf tells her to get into the bed and take off her clothes, it could be seen as a metaphor for death taking control of the girl, as it takes control of many people when they experience a loved one dying.  She questions the wolf, the eyes, the ears etc, a symbol for her taking some control, questioning what death really is and realising that it does not have control over her. In the end, she manages to escape from the wolf and therefore, for this symbolic interpretation, she manages to escape the grasps that grief can hold. The moral of the story – Don’t let grief take over or control your life.

Many people would disagree on the points that I have made above. However, a story is only as understood as it is perceived and different people perceive things in different ways. This therefore further explains one reason why storytelling has changed so much over the years, it doesn’t just matter how it is told, the way in which it is heard is just as, if not even more important.

Little Red Riding Hood Illustration By Daniel Egneus

Little Red Riding Hood Illustration By Daniel Egneus

(Ideas adapted from lectures by Donna Leishman)

Fairytale Origins

From the beginning of our existence we, as humans, have been storytellers. From images on cave walls, to oral tales, literature, and now in the form of photography  and film. Humans are social animals and we express ourselves through these mediums in order to further our sociability. Just like the form of storytelling has changed over the years, the details of stories have also changed. If you imagine it like a game of Chinese whispers: stories that have been told by word of mouth and are changed slightly from person to person and can end up being a completely abstracted or elaborated version of previous ones.

“There is never a single orthodox version of a myth. As our circumstances change, we need to tell our stories differently in order to bring out their timeless truth.” – Karen Armstrong

The extent to which stories are adapted is incredible look at. For example, you may be surprised to hear some far more gruesome versions of what we know from our childhoods of beloved fairy tales or Disney adaptations. A Little Red Riding Hood who ate her Grandmother and was called a slut by a cat, two horrible step sisters who cut off parts of their feet to fit into a glass slipper and have their eyes pecked our by pigeons, and  a Rumpelstiltskin who decided to rip himself in two after being shown up as a fool!  Whether it be adapted by the famous Charles Perrault or the Grimm Brothers, those individual seeds that were planted as the initial ideas to  demonstrate morals and values have branched out into different directions significantly over time.

Visual Narrative 6


Lectures by Donna Leishman

Karen Armstrong (2004). A short history of myth. London: Canongate. Introductory pages

The Importance of Good Typography

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and whilst we all try not to, it is human nature to make a quick judgement on the first appearance of something. So when designing a concert poster, book cover, advertisement etc. it is very important that we ensure the first impression of the subject is the best we can make it.
Within communication design, it is imperative that when type is being adopted, it is used in the correct way. Contemporary typography can be divided into two separate groups. The first deals with designs that require an informative and almost sterile style that is often used for advertising, poster design or book covers, where it is very important that the text is legible to communicate the ideas and information. This is created in a precise, and some may say more graphic approach, often using computer software. The other group takes a more lax approach to legibility and is designed to provide an emotive portrayal, often far more illustrative in appearance not necessarily required to be legible.
Good design comes down to good typography. A design can be ruined simply by bad placing, scale or choice of type to what would otherwise be a successful design. These aspects including others such as weight and colour can completely change a message or emphasis on a subject. Below are two simple mock ups that I created of a hypothetical instance where type can completely change a design/image, for better or worse.

Example of Bad Typography

Example of Bad Typography

Example of Good Typography

Example of Good Typography

As you can see above, the first image is an example of terrible placing, colour, scale and choice of type.  To begin with, the title reads “The Big Book of Patrick Hook” rather than “The Big Book of Birds” and the word “Birds” is left to the side by itself. This may seem like a very fundamental mistake to make and I have deliberately exaggerated this in my example but it might surprise you how often this kind of situation occurs in real life design which therefore affects the accuracy of information. In the example of good typography the title and author are separated to ensure a clear division between the two. The placing of the typography also leads the eyes diagonally across the page from the top left to bottom right corners which encourages the audience to take in all aspects of the book cover rather than focussing on just one section. The colours of the first piece are appalling; they completely clash with one another, are too brash and blend in far too much to the background image. When creating designs for an informative purpose, the designer must ensure that all words are legible and furthermore, are read in the manner intended. In the second image I have used a far more subtle dark grey which isn’t as harsh as black, yet is dark enough to stand out within the design. This ensures the book design stays elegant and sophisticated, which therefore will appeal to the appropriate market. Lastly, the typefaces used do not work well together at all in the first image. Contemporary typography often shows us that different styles of type can work very well together on the same page, however there is a skill within this that must be employed. Type must never be thrown onto a page and be expected to look good, it should always be thought through carefully and planned out.


Illustrative Typography

Above is an example of a more illustrative approach to typography. As explained previously, not all words need to be properly understood but instead the focus is on the image as a whole, in the above case, a horse. This kind of typography tends to be far more visually appealing and interesting in composition and is often created this way to cleverly convey a message. In this particular image, some of the words are upside down, and in obscure positions but are done so to create a convincing silhouette of the horse. Through my own research and experience, I have found that creating this more illustrative style of typography can often be far more interesting and rewarding, however depending on the brief/project it is not always appropriate. A good designer will not choose the best design for their boss, nor for the art critics of the world, or for themselves, but instead for the audience that it is ultimately intended for.


Lectures By Donna Leishman

Hellar, D & Talarico, L (2012). Typography Sketchbooks. London: Thames and Hudson. Introduction.

Typeface History at a Glance

Typography : The art or procedure of arranging type or processing data and printing from it. – Oxford Dictionary.

The first modern-day form of typography came to the public by German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg in the Mid 1400’s with the invention of the first movable type printing press. As this wonderful invention became available within other areas of Europe and further afield, typeface styles began to evolve more than ever. Over the past few centuries, the typographic limelight has hopped from country to country. The majority of important typefaces originated in European Countries with help from America now and again, mainly for use in journalism, education and advertising. Luckily for us, Gutenberg’s invention encouraged a snowball effect in typeface design to allow for a plethora of fonts that are still in use today. Thanks to Max Miedinger of Switzerland, in 1957 we were granted the use of Helvetica, the default font for computers. Stanley Morison of London gifted us with Times Roman in 1932, the first type used in newspapers and Eric Gill, with Gill Sans, originally Commissioned for London Railway in 1928.


These typographic designs that are easily readable and far less time-consuming to produce than original handwritten scripts have  allowed for a great development in communication, be it in literature, education or journalism. Some may see this development as pointless, and that one clear typeface would do, rather than the 90,000+ typefaces that are in use today. However, without the choice of these, the portrayal and expression of ideas would be nowhere near as impactful and of course, nowhere near as exciting.

For a more detailed explanation of the origins of typography, take a look as this. Graphic designer Ben Barrett-Forrest turns the history of type into an enthralling stop motion animation.


Lectures by Donna Leishman 

Modern Evolution of Text and Language

After a visual and auditorial language was established, humans found that as their knowledge and awareness of the world around them grew, they lacked the capacity to permanently store important information in their brains. This is where text came into play. As explained in previous blog post ‘The Cognitive Mind’, text is a form of semiotic, man made symbols.

If you look at the alphabetical symbols from a technical point of view, it could be argued that it is made up of lots of images that we, as English speakers, translate into our language. Others may argue that the alphabet has nothing at all to do with artwork, yet surely it is undeniable that in certain languages such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, an artistic approach has been highly prevalent in its development.

An interesting thought to consider is how language has changed drastically in modern day society which has ultimately affected the way in which text is viewed and written. In the last few decades, generations have changed language in a way that has spurred resentment among tradition upholding generations. The English language is constantly evolving, although in recent years has fast tracked into a melting pot of cultural and social expressions due to technological developments such as mobile phones and social networks. Many believe that the development of these technologies have greatly harmed the understanding and continuation of the traditional English language and the way that it is written.Words are being abbreviated, merged and reinvented, but is that necessarily a bad thing? If language is man made, isn’t it fair to say that these younger generations, as human beings are still developing a legitimate language? Who is to say that in future years this ‘text speak’ won’t be seen as tradition when language is further developed, or what we see now as traditional language wasn’t once condemned as ‘text speak’ itself.

It is important that we understand that like art, language will always change and evolve to suit the needs of society. We cut and paste elements of traditional text to create new interpretations and styles of writing. There is no harm in making language contemporary where appropriate, however put out some may become because of it, as long as we remember to uphold the understanding of traditional writing and keep the fundamentals instilled in society. It is also important when working in the field of communication design to be aware of the audience and what language is appropriate to use, whether it takes inspiration from a Charlotte Bronte novel or the latest comment on Reddit. Because of the variety of situations in which the use of language is so determinative, we should appreciate the fluidity and continuous development of language, not shirk from it.110512_text_creep


(Ideas adapted from lectures given by Donna Leishman)