Research Paper: History of Graphic Art

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Graphic Art

It is possible to study art in a variety of ways, because of the impact that it has had throughout human development. For example, art can be studied by looking at periods of specific art forms, such as impressionism or abstract art. It can be analyzed through the artists and how they related to their culture and the historic times. or, in the case of graphic art, it can be studied in relationship to what was taking place in history at the time. Graphic art, which includes graphic design or the manipulation of the art, is closely tied to the technological advancements that have been made over the centuries. Although some define the term "graphic art(s)" as including drawing, it is most often used to cover the various processes by which prints are created (Oxford Dictionary of Art, nd). From the beginning of typography in the mid-1400s to today's digital arts, graphic art has progressed along with the level of technology available. Graphic artists and designers have utilized each new innovation to develop new forms of expression.

Many historians say that the invention of typography, "printing through the use of independent, movable and reusable bits of metal, each of which has a raised letterform on its top" (Meggs, 1983, p. 71), is the most important advancement in civilization after the creation of writing. Writing gave humans the ability of storing, retrieving and documenting knowledge and information that transcended time and place. Typography allowed the economical and multiple reproduction of alphabet communication so that knowledge could spread quickly. Typography also provided an entirely new way for artists to express themselves. Today, several of the earliest examples of artist products from the original Guttenberg press include four calendars, a German poem on the Last Judgment and several editions of Latin Grammar by Donatus, dated 1454.

In 1455, Guttenberg published his Bible, a two-volume work with 1,282 pages with 42 lines each. Guttenberg knew he had to compete with the richly decorated manuscripts on the market. Both his technical and artistic quality were of the highest standards in each of the 200 books he produced Since this was a one-color press, the words were highlighted through "rubrication," or different colored inks by hand. The two-color press would evolve later, as would the italic and bold type for emphasis. The words were set in a gothic script called "Textura," so it looked like it was done by the medieval scribes (Eskilson, 2007, p. 15). Some of the pages were decorated with vines and birds.

When Guttenberg unfortunately defaulted on his business loans, Johann Fust took over the business. In Fust's first book, Mainz Psalter, he combined type with elaborately carved woodcut illustrations. This established the design of books for many centuries to come, with a combination of both artistic typography and illustrations. Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, typographers created both new type faces, such as Caslon and Baskerville, but also made changes to the presses for better duplication. For example, Baskerville developed "hot pressing," to heat newly printed pages between copper plates (Eskilson, 2007).

The Industrial Revolution not only changed the entire complexion of the business and manufacturing world, but also the social and economic role of typographic communication. Prior to the 19th century, information dissemination through books was the main form of communication. However, the faster pace of change along with the introduction of mass communication in the urban and industrialized society led to a rapid expansion of printing, advertising and reproductions, such as lithography and posters. Artwork was now enlarged for billboards, and lithographer printers rendered plates directly from the artist's sketch. Designers began to alter the predominant typefaces and creating new ones (Meggs, 1983). In 1810, publishers John and Josiah Boydell printed a nine-volume illustrated version of Shakespeare's works. The text typeface uniquely displayed modern tendencies.

Yet, by the second half of the 19th century, most European typography had come to a visual standstill. The steam-engine printing press and larger quantities of output led to newer and better machinery. Craftspeople were being replaced by foremen and assistants. When quantity and speed of output were the main priorities, typography started to lose its importance and the standards of books completely deteriorated, with poor design, inferior paper and low quality presswork and typefaces. Sensitivity for design, color and materials no longer were of the importance (Purvis, 1992). The design arts, which had been so essential when Guttenberg first published his Bible, had lost their role. It seemed as if the pride of publishing had disappeared, and consumers began demanding better printing, since the quality had begun to suffer so greatly. This demand was responded to, in part, by the improvement of printing techniques for better quality wood engravings and thin modern typefaces.

A small movement of painters, sculptors and architects, who believed that the 20th century would herald a revival of unity in the arts comparable to the Italian Renaissance, began to take shape. William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, became a role model and inspiration for a generation of designers. In an article entitled "On the Unity of Art" in the January 1887 issue of Hobby Horse, Selwyn Image passionately argued that all forms of visual expression deserved the status of art (Meggs, 1983). The Hobby Horse thus became the first publication to treat printing as a serious design form. Those individuals who were aesthetically concerned about the design and production of beautiful books and regaining standards of design, quality materials and careful printing workmanship, were now included in this definition of artist (Meggs, 1983).

Like Morris, they began to print limited editions of high quality, fine books, known as the Private Press Movement. This led to a renewed interest in type design, book design and fine printing. The books were made with high quality materials (hand-made paper, traditional inks and, in some cases, specially-designed typefaces), and were often bound by hand. Careful consideration was given to format,-page-design, type, illustration and binding, in order to produce a unified whole. In Germany, Rudolf Koch, based on pen-drawn calligraphy before World War I, sought the medieval experience through the design and letters of handmade manuscript books. He not only imitated the medieval scribe, but built upon the calligraphic tradition by working with the Kingspor Type Foundry to create new designs (Tracy, 2003). In America, Bruce Rogers and Frederic Goudy advanced the art of typography. Rogers designed 60 limited editions and emerged as one of the most influential books designers. He applied the ideal of aesthetically designed books to commercial production. Goudy, a freelance designer specializing in lettering and typographic design, designed 122 different typefaces (Loxley, 2006).

During the 1920s, the profession of graphic designer and art director gradually increased in importance in the U.S. As fine art printing and commercial design began to overlap. The American Institute of Graphic Arts, which was founded in 1914 with an emphasis on fine art printing, began to shift its activities into the commercial design field (Crawford, 2008). At the same time, the advertising industry rapidly began to explode, opening up an even greater need for graphic artists. These artists expanded into new areas, such as designs for packaging, company imaging, and all forms of mass media. As the 20th century moved forward, the development of quicker, more efficient printing methods led to a rapid growth in newspapers and consumer magazines. A growing literacy rate helped further the popularity and profitability of such printed matter. Through illustration, photography and graphic design, mass magazines and their advertising created a significant role in advertising and graphic design.

Advances in 20th century graphic arts were largely inspired by technological advances in printing. Until the 1960s, the hot-metal method was the main technology used for setting type. In this process, lead is poured in the shape of the specific characters or lines of type, placed into matrices or mats and used directly for printing or reproduction proofs. Linotype, Intertype, and Ludlow were the leading makers of these typesetting machines. Typographers/printers were considered highly skilled blue-collar workers.

However, major changes occurred for both the printing and the graphic arts industries staring in the mid-1970s with computerized phototypesetting, where typesetting machines featured the text on a monitor, and recorded onto perforated tapes and then diskettes. Text was output on photosensitive paper and developed in chemicals. Galley type and corresponding artwork was pasted up on cardboard for camera-ready mechanicals. That is, they were photographed by special process cameras onto a film negative and the image was then burned to metallic or plastic printing plates (Eskilson, 2007). Typography was moved out of the printing shop and into the artists' studios, with the more advanced hot-metal typesetting machines and phototypsetting machines. Typesetting and printing developed into two different businesses.

The early phototypesetting machines had very little graphic capabilities, with type and graphics produced separately and then combined on the camera-ready mechanicals, or keylines. To produce type, the typesetter entered code through the keyboard, which gave directions to the machine on formatting the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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History of Graphic Art.  (2010, April 22).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

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"History of Graphic Art."  April 22, 2010.  Accessed May 19, 2019.