Watch: Design in a Nutshell, 6 Creative Movements in 6 Minutes

Outside the hallowed grounds of an art history class, few people are exposed to the history of various creative movements. But each change in artistic perspective is essential to comprehending and evaluating modern culture, philosophy, and opinion. Not everyone is afforded the chance to attend lectures on such matters, so Open University created a six-part short video series to save us all the trouble.

“Design in a Nutshell” is just that: very brief vignettes on design between the 1800s and today. While this is no substitute for taking a class or reading a book on each movement, it’s certainly a good place to start.

Gothic Revival was an attempt to bring back buildings like giant stone cathedrals in a time when the industrial revolution was only making factories. This return to medieval architecture eventually influenced everything from clothing to design. Many affluent business people took to this style and constructed giant castle like buildings to live in.

Arts and Crafts was a reaction against the technology and machines of the industrial revolution. In a world where everything became mechanized and identical, Arts and Crafts was a refuge for those who wanted “stuff” to have a bit of soul and bring back elements of an age where skilled craftsmen built the world.

Bauhaus ushered in an interdisciplinary approach to art. Various artforms were blended together into one design aesthetic. Architecture, drawing, pottery, graphic design, and sculpture were all included in one school of art. Unlike Arts & Crafts, Bauhaus wanted to embrace technology while simultaneously creating original and soulful work.

Modernism represented human disillusionment after the terrors of World War I. This movement touched all forms of creative expression including film, architecture, literature, art, poetry, graphic design, music, design, and critical thinking. This was the age of the -ism, where every new discipline represented a novel way to look at the world. Cubism, symbolism, Dadaism, surrealism, impressionism, futurism, imagism expressionism, fauvism, constructivism, and existentialism were all the result of this turning of opinion. Through new ways of thinking, modernists believed they could design a better world.

American Industrial Design was the key to jumpstarting the product economy after the great depression erased almost all consumer demand. Industrial design was a way to take ordinary objects and make them appear extraordinary by re-imagining how products looked and functioned. American manufacturers realized if they made things look futuristic and hopeful, people would buy them in hope of a better future.

Post-Modernism was a reaction against the failures of a modernist world. The modernists had tried to design a better world through science and human ingenuity, but mostly fell short. Post-modernists believed that more is more, and believed quantity and variety were essential in determining individual subjective conclusions about the world. Everything was compared to each other instead of an objective standard. If you’ve ever cut off an argument by saying “well this is subjective, there’s no right answer,” you’re a post-modernist. Post-modernists wanted to question why things are the way they are.


Design in a Nutshell, Open University

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