Graphic Arts

The history of modern graphic art can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century, when people first began to wonder how print could be raised to be an independent art form. In those days, there was a feeling that visual arts were beginning to stagnate and people were looking for the next evolution in the art field.

At this time, graphics were only used in painting and were seen as the lowest form of visual art compared to the art forms of painting and drawing. Because graphics could be used to reproduce originals in the easiest possible way, more so than the other techniques of the day such as line-engraving in copper and etching, or a combination of both that was used to reproduce paintings, graphic art originally was only seen as a way of reproducing "real" works of art.

Graphic techniques gradually began to gain prominence, and all three major graphic techniques -- woodcut, lithography and etching -- began to find favor as pure art. For example, Thomas Bewick started the technique of woodcut when he began cutting blocks of wood across the grain rather than in traditional plank fashion. Between 1790 and 1804, in a serious of animal books, he showed that end-grain wood-engraving was the proper technique to duplicate illustrations in printed books.

The English surgeon Seymour Haden showed the flexibility of etching in copper when he spent spare moments visiting patients to etch on copper various motifs and designs that he had seen in various hospital wards. This technique gained recognition in 1858-1860, when he and his brother-in-law, James McNeil Whistler, showed that the delicate furrow of a drypoint stroke could represent a wide array of nuances between shadow and light, much more so than a pencil. This ultimately showed the potential of graphic art to be superior to drawing.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was an artist who took the chromo-lithograph from its lowly status as a tool to copy items to being a way of creating an independent piece of art. He is also credited as the forefather of the modern poster. It is hard to separate his chromo-lithography from his posters, which are now used to catch the eyes of the modern-day consumer with brash advertisements. The creation of larger fonts in the industrial revolution and the beginning of consumerist society also helped contribute to an art form that was tasked with grabbing the eye of passing potential customers. These business -oriented results led to the creation of demand for graphic art. Maurice Talmayr, writing for the Revue des deux Mondes in 1896, observed with a hint of resignation: "One hardly ever finds morality where there is art and one never finds art where there is morality. . . . nothing characterizes the nature of the poster better. It has issued from the spirit of our life. The poster is indeed art and, what is more, just about the only original art of this era."

Toulouse-Lautrec's work opened up the poster as an art form and started the transition of graphic art to how it is currently regarded -- as a medium for marketing rather than a pure art form in itself, though as argued above, it still remains classified as art. The invention of the modern computer and the ease of availability now makes the computer the main tool for graphic artists to produce their work. Nowadays, graphic artists use computer graphics programs such as the popular software from Adobe or Coral Draw to create their pieces, rather than the outmoded medium of lithography. A few clicks of the mouse, aided by the specialty automated tools found on these software programs, allows graphic artists to produce creative masterpieces even without a natural talent for arts. Graphic artists are now able to find jobs in a variety of occupations, but a lot of them are employed in web design, as the demand in this field continues to remain strong.

Graphic Arts: Selected full-text books and articles

Graphic Arts in the Twentieth Century By Wolf Stubbe Frederick A. Praeger, 1963
FREE! The Graphic Arts: Modern Man and Modern Methods By Jospeh Pennell University of Chicago Press, 1921
Graphic Arts By The Encyclopedia Britannica Garden City Publishing, 1936
American Graphic Art By F. Weitenkampf The Macmillan Company, 1924 (Revised edition)
Matisse: 50 Years of His Graphic Art By William S. Lieberman; Henri Matisse G. Braziller, 1956
Graphic Style: From Victorian to Digital By Steven Heller; Seymour Chwast Harry N. Abrams, 2000 (New edition)
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.