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Editorial Modernism in American Advertising

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The essay title I have chosen is “Discuss and evaluate the innovations of the American modernists working in either advertising editorial or corporate identity”. With this editorial essay I want to focus mainly on the origins of modernism and how it affected the beginning of modernism in American advertising. You can’t possibly capture the whole history of modernism in American advertising, I feel the beginning of this movement when it hits America is the most interesting and important part of the transition from traditionalism to modernism.

In this chapter Steven is comparing advertising to graphic design and how completely different there history is but work together. Heller writes how the term advertising is “cringe to graphic designers”. Advertising is a tool of capitalism, a con to unwitting consumers. He states how “graphic design is an aesthetic and philosophical pursuit and communicates ideas”. 

William Dwiggins coined the term graphic designer. He stated that advertising means every conceivable printed means for selling anything.”

I understand why graphic designers don’t like being associated with advertising, the aim of advertising is to sell, money is the driven goal. Compared to graphic design the main aim is to produce works that please their aesthetic needs. Sometimes the works of advertisers and graphic designers cross over resulting in many commercial artists have engaged in the service of advertising in one way or another. Graphic designers often “collaborate” with firms creating a once off piece for an advertising project.

Arthur Hawkins Jr describes how American advertising designs where influenced. “As competitive pressure squeezed the innocence out of advertising art directors become rougher and tougher. They were influenced by Gebrauchsgraphik and were paved with futura”

This is the beginning of the European influence in my essay, this German magazine along with Bauhaus greatly influenced American advertising design. The European culture towards design and advertising is completely different and more experimental than that of American advertising. For example Posters from Jean Carlu where geometric and balanced with colour and type, pushing the boundaries of poster design. American advertising has traditional been dominated by hard sell copy and the shift in emphasis from words to art and design did not occur overnight.

If advertising is a function then graphic design is a form. This is a point Dwiggins made in Layout in Advertising

He makes the chain of advertising and graphic design clear, advertising isn’t the end point but neither is graphic design, sales in the endpoint.

I think it is important to understand the origins of modernism before I look at American modernism. Modernism first started off as the “mechanical paradise” This new innovations in technology brought an aesthetic of lightness.

A prime example of this is the Eiffel Tower, it represented triumph of the modern present over the traditional past. 

Just from this statement I understand where modernism began. America mirrored the rest of the world it didn’t have its own identity hence a huge influence from European culture which I will discuss later in the essay. Some people began by almost boycotting European traditions in typography, that American are copying too literally from European typography.

Americans should be promoting their own typography traditions and not be influenced by European culture. I both understand why this statement was made but also how it should be diminished. American advertising was doing nothing in terms of ground breaking design, the influence of European design promptly moved American advertising to a level that was unreachable by others.

Modernism emerged after the 1900’s as a radical rejection of the traditional values of the Victorians.

The aims of modernist art were to discard the old visual language and create new aims which represented a more influential future. Hans Hofsman once said. “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”.

This idea of simplifying removing embellishments reflected a new kind of functionalism. Modernism movement was all about simplifying, this is one of the main points that impacted American advertising the most. Instead of cramming adverts with information overriding the senses, toning back can be more effective.

My idea of modernism comes mainly from European culture. Designers in Paris where influenced by cubist artist Picasso and Braque who provided new ways of viewing reality in their art. This relates to Harper’s Bazaar, the year Alexy Brodivicth retired from art director from Harper’s Bazaar was the year Hollywood produced “funny Face” a similarly based film on Harper’s Bazaar. The premises of the film is to “dress the woman of the world and instruct them in the ideology of progress”

It is Important to emphasis that many forms of aesthetic modernization were prevalent by the time Harper’s Bazaar adopted European modernism. “Modernism often referred to the stylised forms derivative of modern art, its primary aim was the interpretation of chaotic reality.” 

Alexy Brodovich becoming art director changed the whole culture around graphic design and advertising. Harper’s Bazaar is the perfect example of the European culture effecting American design, Alexy’s unique layouts and typographic choices changed Bazaars future.

“Alexy Brodovitch moved from Paris to Philadelphia where he became art director of Harper’s Bazaar.” This is where he instigated a whole new approach to magazine design based on the idea of page contrast and flow. He consistently used experimental themes such as surrealism, juxtaposition, repetition, and silhouette. It was immigrants such as Alexy and Dr Mehemed Fehmy Agha who set a new pace throughout magazine design and changed the status of a designer. 

In hiring Alexy, Carmel snow the editor of Bazaar advanced the aesthetic ideals of a “European based modernist movement through the editorial, typographic and photographic forms of Bazaar”.

The popularity of Bazaar was Identified in Funny Face when European fashion was highlighted. Alexy was use to conduct of the European avante-garde felicitating the transformations that Snow envisioned for her magazine. 

I think because Alexy was an outsider to American advertising culture, his knowledge of European design gave him an advantage, no other American advertising was created in the manner of Modernist European style, they were all very similar and magazine layouts began to all look similar. Alexy had a huge impact towards Bazaar.

For example before his arrival, Words and pictures were not closely allied and the text was determined by a grid of symmetrical proportions reminiscent of traditional book design. In contrast the first page contained a photo of an elongated model with text skewed into a distortion of traditional typographic grid. The asymmetric typography was Alexy’s style summed up.

Lorraine wild argues “the influence of modernism on American graphic designers may have originated in the work of the European futurists or the constructivists or the designers of Bauhaus but the social utopianism of the aesthetic that accompanied early modernism never reached the united states.

The truth is that modernism was fraught with contradiction from the outset but that’s what gave it breadth. Modernism was introduced as a bridge between art and commerce a tool in retooling of the American economy.

It wasn’t till the 1930’s that American designers began to notice modernism and its impact on the American public. The traditionalist style was becoming tired and American artists began to turn to modernism. Many moved to New York the hub for modernism amongst artists.

Paul rand was a native New Yorker and it was at the New York library where he happened upon the German graphic design journal Gebrauchsgraphik. This is where he noticed the works of Herbert Bayer. This new vocabulary and exposure resulted in rand becoming art director of esquire magazine.

After seeing examples of Bauhaus work in issue of commercial art magazine, Paul rand was one of a few who appreciated the method and embraced modernism not as a novelty but as a viable alternative. Rand was inspired by Bauhaus and European design, he embraced modernism and found a balance between modern art and rational design. 

He incorporated aspects of modern theory and cubism into his advertising work. This move by Rand was bold and worth the risk in terms of his success now. Synthesized the avante garde theories and pushed the boundaries of commercial advertising. Paul rand pushed modernism, wanting more Graphic designers to use it in their work but also have advertising designers appreciate its influence on the market and its benefit.

Design can critically engage the mechanics of representation, exposing and revising its ideological biases design can also remake the grammar of communication by discovering structures and patterns within the material media of visual and verbal writing. 

Herb Lubalin’s ad “Some American advertisers are colour blind” which was aimed at race in advertising was represented through the art direction of the image rather than any typographic elements. The image is creating a theatrical ambience around the ad than the documented text. Advertisers began to follow a pattern when it came to dealing with race, “A witness as a mask has been a recurrent theme” It is easier to address important and sensitive issues through images than actually documenting it through type.

This type of advertising in America is similar to that of the “artistic poster” that came to America in the 1890s the genre had originated in France where posters for books and cultural events incorporated styles such as art nouveau and post impressionism. 

Readers would collect the posters or magazines and display them this made them more interested in the art value than the advertising value. These artistic posters helped establish graphic design as a respected profession by bringing American illustrators into contact with European Avante Garde encouraging them to develop distinctive artistic style and to compete in the international art community. Both Herb and Lou brought a new version of advertising to America they used collage and photomontage these techniques where influenced from the likes of Dada, Constructivists and the Bauhaus designers. This type of new advertising was effective, readers where being subjected to stronger layout designs in terms of image and text placement.

CCA commissioned designs from European modernists such as A.M Cassandre and Herbert Bayer. Some of the images featured photo montage and where considered aesthetically radical at the time. The campaigns in the 1940s featured tentatively cubist, expressionist illustrations. 

The ad was a commentary on American culture making no reference to packaging and instead aspires to be a work of art with an oblique advertising function. The CCA where seen as a patriotic company with their poster designs created by French artist Jean Carlu. The CCA’s approach to their advertising campaign was aided by artist such as Paul Rand who was influenced by Picasso and Dadaism, drawing inspiration from European magazines such as the Gebrauchsgraphik. Geometric shapes and divisive typography helped them get the support they needed and ultimately furthering advertising in this type of field.

The CCA consistently presented itself to the public by using the best designers and artists. Much of this was facilitated through the guidance of ART director Charles coiner and Herbert Bayer. 

They regularly produced advertisements which contributed both to CCA goals and made it look more in support of the war effort. Each ad emphasized one functional benefit of using paperboard packaging.

Gyorgy Kepes belief that graphic design and motion pictures could play a major role in changing the world because they were less hidebound by tradition than any other art forms resonated with bass political views.

Saul Basses work was often described as the moment when a particular work of art first makes a huge cultural impact. The point of title sequences was to influence the viewer before the film started, this was Basses time to introduce the audience to more modern and abstract form of design to cinema. The title also established the mood, Bass began to integrate his titles in to the narrative process.

Saul Bass trained as a graphic designer however his adverts where too promiscuous for main stream advertising but suited film sequences as it opened the minds of the audience. Advertising didn’t like the modernist ways and where afraid the public would reject it and not understand the reasoning behind the ad.

His use of collaging images and moving images together wowed the audience subjecting them to more ideas about graphic design.

When creating new adverts because tv began to take up more of peoples time instead of reading it gave a better basis to work on in terms of layering image sound and text. This was why Bass turned to film sequences his work was applauded the sequences where thought provoking and sometimes more memorable than the film itself. When the vertigo film didn’t do well in the box office blame was immediately directed at the advertising campaign. It was “too artsy and too abstruse” this is the surprising to note as the difference in advertising campaign for films in America and Europe specifically France.

The comparison between modernism in America and Europe is evident within film industry, I noticed that the film posters in each country where far from different. The french posters where informed by modern movement graphics and surrealism where as the US posters featured a photograph of the main leading actress.

The Americans where not use to the modernist way of advertising thats why poster campaigning for movies is straightforward avoiding any complications.

Hitchcock was one of the directors to bring modernist surrealism to main stream America through filming. He hired artists such as Salvador Dali which helped American advertising grow and experience the benefits of modernism.

Movements such as this has made American advertising what it is today, a combination of European influences and cunning designers such as herb and Saul have changed advertising. American advertising has had good and bad influences.

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Editorial Modernism In American Advertising. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from
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