Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Being inspired by historical art and design...

(I have published this article on another of my blogs, so sorry if you have seen it before.)

Too often I hear students moaning that historical sources are boring, uninspiring, and in some cases irrelevant to the world of contemporary graphics. More often than I am comfortable with students would rather study their peers on Deviant Art than their superiors in an art gallery.

While I do understand what my students are saying, from their point of view, I suggest that the problem is not with the historical art, but in our misconceptions about how we think other people's artwork should influence or inspire us.

Take the video for Coldplay's Viva La Vida for example. A fantastic piece of contemporary art & design, packed with modern digital effects, almost totally inspired visually by 19th Century oil paintings.

See if you agree...

Take a close look. You will see animated painterly effects, cracks in the image like the crazing in an old painting, the dress of the performers, the props, the colours and yes, even the lighting, all influenced by oil paintings nearly 200 years old.

Compare the colours and lighting from the video with this portrait of Nelson. The similarities are striking.

Other examples of paintings from the same era follow. Do you see similarities with these too?

As you watch the video you will have seen many visual elements borrowed from paintings like those above. They have taken the visual language of these paintings and used it in the video.

One painting in particular that appears to inspire the video is the one on the cover of the "Death and All His Friends" album. It features a painting entitled "Liberty Leading the People". It was painted in 1830 by Eugène Delacroix in oil on canvas and currently resides in the Louvre museum in Paris. But if you look closely as the video plays, you will notice a lot of the background imagery appears to be either taken from or inspired by this painting (watch out for the red flag imagery, and towards the end, "Liberty" herself).

What is my point? Just because you are asked to find examples of historical art for research does not mean you will have to produce an oil painting. For inspiration you might take colours, texture, lighting, composition, style, story telling, imagery, semiotics, mood, effects... anything you like.

You don't have to feel like you need to be inspired to use the media or technique - though you might be.

Inspiration comes in many ways from many sources. Do you have the eye to look beyond the surface? If you have, you may yet produce great things, original things, that go beyond the graphical fashion of the now.

The Coldplay video proves my point. So look deeper.

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