In The Inversion of Originality through Design, Donnelly examines the very ontological principles of what can be considered the originality in graphic design from the point of view of provocative power, inventiveness, and different contexts.
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In the history of design as part of visual culture, it is easy to discover, that the epoch when graphic design transformed into an independent form of artistic experience is linked to the societal change and revolutions, particularly in the case of German and Russian avant-garde movements. The freedom to criticize the society unleashed the ways to express critique in design. On the one hand, it stimulates innovation in all of the media, and the avant-garde was the representation of originality in its common understanding. The reason for that is that it challenged the way the design operated, introducing the functionality and provoking, catching image as two new objectives.
However, the graphic design’s powers of challenging the viewer and drawing the attention were quickly noticed by the businessmen and politicians. Considering the way avant-garde originated from propagandist and revolutionary art, it poses the question of what is the cause and what is the effect in this case. Nevertheless, the visual arts were and are now a powerful instrument for propaganda, not only for the political ideas but also for the society of consumption (Adorno and Rabinbach 14).
With the massive use of avant-garde-like images for entirely different purposes, the style and symbolism of those images no longer have any potential to critique or challenge. Therefore, in a certain sense, it means that they no longer possess the power of originality.
The modernism, and particularly in Canada is considered as something “canonical, that is, not subversive or oppositional but something to learn in school” (Donnelly 151). It can hardly be described as provocative; therefore, from this perspective, it supposedly lacks originality. However, if we analyze the context in which modern art appeared, it also had its power of influencing people, just not in a way of agitating them. In the different, discourse it has its appeal.
Donnelly goes further and expands on the reintroduction of Roman letterforms by Gutenberg. In this case, even though he did not invent the Gothic style of lettering, the aspect of graphic design became part of the revolution that began when Gutenberg invented the printing press. If we think about it as “the ability to make a difference in a culture already driven by endless difference and constant upheaval” (Donnelly 156), the reintroduction can be considered originality as well.
In conclusion, Donnelly suggests that problems of design are to be solved by philosophical investigation because they are trying to impose the framework for what is originality, and in which set of rules it can originate. In fact, graphical arts do not necessarily create their own systematic, restricted and standardized area of functioning. Therefore, the boundaries of the format of propaganda, prevocational potential or inventiveness only restrict the originality. Therefore, the powerful designs remain behind the disruptive framework and are not determined by its standards.
Graphic design as a response to something
All of the artistic media are respondent to the changes in social or political life. Visual arts’ purpose is to create an image as powerful as possible, sometimes regardless of the topic to which the art is applied. Nevertheless, it is not lack of ethics, but the freedom that makes art possible. Anything can be depicted in the art form. However, the image is only considered art when it has the author’s intention behind it. Therefore, it is important to define whether graphic design in this regard can meet all the criteria of the art form.
Design elements, originality, and the status of massively reproduced images
The pop art as a part of the popular culture, in many ways, developed from the antecedents of this problem. The mass reproduction of images is, on the one hand, the opposite of any high inspiration for those who look at the image. On the other hand, it is used massively in advertising. It is important to define, whether the image’s omniscience creates bigger influence, even with the reduced effect of first seeing the picture. For example, it can be the influence over the consumers’ decision. The massively reproduced images are simultaneously the ode and the critique of the consumer society.
The artistic value of graphic design if it reuses the design patterns created before
Graphic design always reintroduces itself in its means and methods. On the one hand, it happens because there are limitations to what can be done in visual arts, although today were find more and more ways to challenge this assumption. On the other hand, there is a charm in design referencing to another epoch, style or author. However, it is important to define if there are any objective criteria for assessing the value of the graphic design as a whole, as well as single works. The reason for that is that images tend to have more and more of the reproduced content, and at some point, the work will be no longer considered original.
Adorno, Theodor W., and Anson G. Rabinbach. “Culture industry reconsidered.” New German Critique (1975): 12-19.
Donnelly, Brian. “The Inversion of Originality through Design.” RACAR 40.2 (2015): 146-160.