The Origins of Thinking about Ornamentation

Initially, I was intrigued by the concept of “ornament” and “ornamentation” in graphic design while reading Seymour Chwast and Steven Heller’s Graphic Style – From Victorian to New CenturyWhile reading about the Arts and Crafts movement in England (the mid 1800s-early 1900s) and the Bauhaus school in Germany (1919-1933), it was interesting to note that they both held similar ideals and were reform movements, but with different visual outcomes. Both schools (perhaps initially for Bauhaus) strived to remove the boundaries between craftsmanship and art. The Arts and Crafts movement in England was a reaction against the negative, poorly made goods produced in the industrialization era. This movement set to bring attention to creating beautiful, handcrafted functional works, often decorated with organic flourishes. Stylistically, it is less ornate and fussy compared to the typical Victorian aesthetic of the time, but much more embellished in appearance compared to Bauhaus. On the other hand, Bauhaus was initially modeled after William Morris’ art and craft workshops, fusing together fine arts and crafts. While initially not having a uniform style, Bauhaus’ output leaned more in a stark, unadorned and geometric direction, which laid a major foundation for the modern movement. The initial intent of both movements may have been similar, but the visual outcomes seem completely contrary.

A few examples of works from the Arts and Crafts movement in England:

The Nature of Gothic by John Ruskin, printed by William Morris (1890s)

Strawberry Thief Textile design by William Morris, 1883

Poster for Bauhaus Exhibition by Joost Schmidt, 1923

Herbert Bayer’s Universal alphabet, 1925