If Famous Graphic Artists Were Web Designers…

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Styles in design are described and classified in many ways. Sometimes they are given a moniker, like “Web 2.0,” other times they are referred to by their appearance: grungy, minimalist, retro, big type. The people (and brands) to which modern design styles are attributed are as numerous as the styles themselves. Many designers look to a brand such as Apple as an example of great modern design because a designer’s sensibility is infused into everything it does.

Even though many current styles and trends can be connected to recent design pieces, they do not originate there. So much modern design originated before computers and the Web were even a glimmer in the eye of their creators.

Article Cover

Looking back and drawing inspiration from very early graphic and print design is a current trend nowadays, but that is not the beginning of the story. As you go further back, you’ll find groundbreaking design decades, even a century, ago. In this article we’ll explore inspirational paintings and artists who have influenced modern design. In reading this article, you will see some true evolution in design.

Where Art Meets Design Link

The term “graphic design” was coined in 1922 by one of the first modern designers, William Addison Dwiggins1. He described himself as, “[an] individual who brings structural order and visual form to printed communications.” This seems to be where art meets design. Design is for communicating and achieving a specific goal. Today, the goal is often to market and sell products or services through design, whether by packaging a product, building a brand or creating a Web experience.

Sistine Chapel

So, is design today merely art created for the express purpose of generating profit? One could argue that great artists in history created their own art for profit. Michelangelo2‘s Scenes from Genesis on the Sistine Chapel and Leonardo da Vinci3‘s great work The Last Supper were both commissioned by the church. Today, we regard their work as innovative and embodiments of the Renaissance, but we forget they were also created for profit.

We like to think of great artists as purely motivated individuals who are driven to express themselves or transform our perception of the world. Colors, textures and composition are part of their process of self-discovery and reflect the aesthetics of the time. Modern designers are no different. Even though a particular design may be intended to communicate the message of a corporation, it still reflects the world around us, and the designer has left their mark on it.

Art History Found Today Link

The best art in history was unprecedented and transcended its time. It sometimes seems as if the artists were conscious of future generations enjoying their work. Their compositions, colors, and styles don’t just hang on gallery walls today. They are all around us, in everything from shoes to album covers.

Piet Mondriaan Link

Piet Mondriaan554, Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1927

Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue

Mondriaan’s influence seen today: Chiasso Windows Vase5

Chiasso Windows Vase6

Andy Warhol Link

Andy Warhol22147, Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times, 1963

Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times

Warhol’s influence seen today: Soho Brewery Packaging8

Soho Brewery Packaging9

Yves Klein Link

Yves Klein571910, IKB 191, 1962

IKB 191

Klein’s influence seen today: Chanel Purse in “Klein Bleu”

Chanel Purse Klein Bleu

Robert Irwan Link

Robert Irwin11, Untitled, 1968

Untitled

Irwin’s influence seen today: ISST Organic Ice Tea Packaging12

ISST Organic Tea Packaging13

Andy Warhol Link

Andy Warhol22147, Banana, 1966

Banana

Warhol’s influence seen today: Royal Elastics’ Andy Warhol Shoes

Royal Elastics' Andy Warhol Shoes

Frank Stella Link

Frank Stella15, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II

Stella’s influence seen today: ASKUL Branding16

ASKUL Branding17

Yayoi Kusama Link

Yayoi Kusama18, Infinity Dots H.R.T, 2001

Infinity Dots H.R.T

Kusama’s influence seen today: The Killers Album Art

The Killers Album Art (2008)

If Famous Painters Were Web Designers Link

What if these great masters were alive today? What if they were using a mouse instead of a brush, RGB instead of mixed oils and a computer screen instead of linen canvas. If these famous artists were alive now, these are the websites they might have designed.

Yves Klein Link

Yves Klein571910, IKB 191, 1962

IKB 191

A website Klein might have designed: Britain Rocks20

Britain Rocks21

Andy Warhol Link

Andy Warhol22147, Knives, 1981-82

Basquiat - Self Portrait

A website Warhol might have designed: Carsonified23

Carsonified24

David Alfaro Siqueiros Link

David Alfaro Siqueiros25, Collective Suicide, 1936

Collective Suicide

A website Siqueiros might have designed: Snagt26

Snagt27

Lyubov Popova Link

Lyubov Popova28, Painterly Architectonic, 1917

Painterly Architectonic

A website Popova might have designed: Douglas Menezes29

Douglas Menezes30

Claude Monet Link

Claude Monet31, Impression, Sunrise, 1872

Impression, Sunrise

A website Monet might have designed: Viget Inspire32

Viget Inspire33

Henri Matisse Link

Henri Matisse34, La Gerbe, 1953

La Gerbe

A website Matisse might have designed: Devia35

Devia36

Paul Klee Link

Paul Klee37, Fish Magic, 1925

Fish Magic

A website Klee might have designed: Ali Felski38

Ali Felski39

Basquiat Link

Basquiat5240, Pegasus, 1987

Pegasus

A website Basquiat might have designed: Orange Label41

Orange Label42

Joan Mitchell Link

Joan Mitchell43, Untitled, 1960

Untitled

A website Mitchell might have designed: Siete De Febrero44

Siete De Febrero45

Georges Braque Link

Georges Braque46, Fruit Dish, 1908-09

Fruit Dish

A website Braque might have designed: Belvoir Fruit Farms47

Belvoir Fruit Farms48

Hans Hoffmann Link

Hans Hoffmann49, Bald Eagle, 1950

Bald Eagle

A website Hoffmann might have designed: Funny Garbage50

Funny Garbage51

Basquiat Link

Basquiat5240, Beat Bop, 1983

Beat Bop

A website Basquiat might have designed: Starbucks Coffee At Home53

Starbucks Coffee At Home54

A Closer Look At Six Great Artists Link

If asked to name a few great artists, someone might first think of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. Many other great artists, though, have shown their influence on modern design. Below are six artists who are unique, innovative and ahead of their time.

Piet Mondriaan Link

Piet Mondriaan554 (1872-1944) was a Dutch artist known for clean, grid-style paintings. His later compositions, which may initially look simple, took him months to paint. Each element, from the rectangles to the lines, are composed with precision, with careful attention paid to thickness and width. Mondriaan’s work has influenced the design of modern architecture, print layouts, linoleum and, of course, the minimalist style in modern design.

Rhythm of Black Lines, 1935-42

Rhythm of Black Lines

Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43

Broadway Boogie Woogie

Basquiat Link

Jean-Michel Basquiat56 (1960-1988) was an American artist known for graffiti-influenced and early grunge-style paintings. He started out as a graffiti artist in New York City and later sold postcards and the like along with his artwork on the streets. His painting career took off, and he became known for his use of text and images from popular culture, as well as painting on found objects. Basquiat has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience to the art world.

Self-Portrait, 1982

Self-Portrait

Per Capita, 1983

Per Capita

Yves Klein Link

Yves Klein571910 (1928-1962) was a French artist known for his minimalist monochromatic paintings, featuring his signature deep blue. He worked with blue extensively in his early career and, in 1958, began to use it as a dominant element, making the color itself the art.

International Klein Blue (IKB)58 is the deep blue hue first mixed by Yves Klein. It is outside the color gamut of computer displays, so it cannot be shown accurately in digital format.

International Klein Blue (IKB)59

La Vague, 1957

La Vague

Joan Miró Link

Joan Miró60 (1893-1983) was a Spanish artist known for an abstract, collage-style of painting. He famously declared, “I want to assassinate painting.” Miró wanted to upset the traditional and popular styles of art. He was against art for the sake of propaganda or to give the wealthy a cultural identity. Miró tried not to associate himself with any specific art styles or movements. His bold compositions and fresh thinking have influenced many great modern designers.

Hand Catching a Bird, 1926

Still Life II

L’Oro dell’Azzurro, 1935

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape)

El Lissitzky Link

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky61 (1890-1941) was a Russian artist known for his geometric and early graphic-design style. He was a versatile artist who worked in close to a dozen fields, from painting to architectural design. He influenced the Bauhaus and De Stijl (Mondriaan) movements. His artwork and production techniques heavily influence commercial art and modern design today.

Beat the White with the Red Wedge, 1919

Beat the White with the Red Wedge

Self-Portrait, 1914

Self-Portrait

Gustav Klimt Link

Gustav Klimt62 (1862-1918) was an Austrian artist known for his decorative paintings that make heavy use of gold and provocative symbolism. He is one of the founders of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. He is known for his “Golden Phase,” which is characterized by gold leaves and influences ranging from Byzantine to Egyptian. His compositions have symbolic elements that represent such psychological ideas as the “femme fatal.”

The Kiss, 1907

The Kiss

The Tree of Life, 1909

The Tree of Life

Stepping Back To Move Forward Link

Inspiration and examples of well-executed designs fill up galleries, blogs and online sources like Flickr. Leading industry magazines such as HOW and Communication Arts show the best of what modern design offers. Many of us look to these sources for ideas and to find the spark for our next masterpiece.

But many designers do not bother looking to works of art from earlier in history. By stepping back in time and walking through an art museum or reading the bio and studying the works of an artist from the past, we can find new ways to approach today’s design challenges.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Addison_Dwiggins
  2. 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo
  3. 3 http://www.mos.org/leonardo/
  4. 4 http://www.pietmondrian.org/piet-mondrian.php
  5. 5 http://design-milk.com/windows-vase/
  6. 6 http://design-milk.com/windows-vase/
  7. 7 http://www.warhol.org/
  8. 8 http://www.thedieline.com/blog/2009/08/student-spotlight-erin-dameron.html
  9. 9 http://www.thedieline.com/blog/2009/08/student-spotlight-erin-dameron.html
  10. 10 http://www.yveskleinarchives.org/
  11. 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Irwin_%28artist%29
  12. 12 http://www.artentiko.com/
  13. 13 http://www.artentiko.com/
  14. 14 http://www.warhol.org/
  15. 15 http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A5640&page_number=1&template_id=6&sort_order=1
  16. 16 http://www.stockholmdesignlab.se/#/1111/library/clients/askul/askul/
  17. 17 http://www.stockholmdesignlab.se/#/1111/library/clients/askul/askul/
  18. 18 http://www.yayoi-kusama.jp/e/exhibitions/00.html
  19. 19 http://www.yveskleinarchives.org/
  20. 20 http://www.visitbritainrocks.ca/
  21. 21 http://www.visitbritainrocks.ca/
  22. 22 http://www.warhol.org/
  23. 23 http://carsonified.com/
  24. 24 http://carsonified.com/
  25. 25 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alfaro_Siqueiros
  26. 26 http://bestwebgallery.com/2007/01/03/snagt/
  27. 27 http://bestwebgallery.com/2007/01/03/snagt/
  28. 28 http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=4694
  29. 29 http://douglasmenezes.com/wp/
  30. 30 http://douglasmenezes.com/wp/
  31. 31 http://www.intermonet.com/
  32. 32 http://www.viget.com/inspire
  33. 33 http://www.viget.com/inspire
  34. 34 http://www.henri-matisse.net/index.html
  35. 35 http://www.devia.be/
  36. 36 http://www.devia.be/
  37. 37 http://www.swissinfo.ch/specials/klee/paul_klee_index.html
  38. 38 http://alifelski.com/
  39. 39 http://alifelski.com/
  40. 40 http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/basquiat/street-to-studio/english/home.php
  41. 41 http://www.orangelabel.com/
  42. 42 http://www.orangelabel.com/
  43. 43 http://www.artnet.com/awc/joan-mitchell.html
  44. 44 http://www.sietedefebrero.com/
  45. 45 http://www.sietedefebrero.com/
  46. 46 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Braque
  47. 47 http://blog.belvoirfruitfarms.co.uk/
  48. 48 http://blog.belvoirfruitfarms.co.uk/
  49. 49 http://www.hanshofmann.net/art/art.html
  50. 50 http://www.funnygarbage.com/
  51. 51 http://www.funnygarbage.com/
  52. 52 http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/basquiat/street-to-studio/english/home.php
  53. 53 http://www.starbuckscoffeeathome.com/
  54. 54 http://www.starbuckscoffeeathome.com/
  55. 55 http://www.pietmondrian.org/piet-mondrian.php
  56. 56 http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/basquiat/street-to-studio/english/home.php
  57. 57 http://www.yveskleinarchives.org/
  58. 58 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Klein_Blue
  59. 59 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Klein_Blue
  60. 60 http://media.moma.org/subsites/2008/miro/
  61. 61 http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/digitized_collections/lissitzky/
  62. 62 http://www.iklimt.com/
  63. 63 http://www.designhistory.org/20th_Century.html
  64. 64 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,825048,00.html
  65. 65 http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/11/1146
  66. 66 http://nymag.com/arts/art/reviews/21938/
  67. 67 http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/andy-warhol/a-documentary-film/44/
  68. 68 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/07/17/lessons-from-swiss-style-graphic-design/
  69. 69 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/08/02/bauhaus-ninety-years-of-inspiration/

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Francisco Inchauste is an interaction designer at Universal Mind, helping clients create great Web experiences. He regularly contributes to Web design blogs, magazines, and books. He recently served as Editor of Smashing Magazine’s UX Design section. You can connect with him on Twitter, or read more on his blog.

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  1. 1

    What a horrible post

    so pretentious, but dont get it.

    I highly agree with tom muller. Go to school or read a book before talking bout art. We can talk about a lot of things, but art, fashion and culture are the most sensible and hard things to understand.

    What a poor article, with poor taughts over the artists and poor pairings. If you read at least one book about Warhol, you’ll know tha he was a graphic designer, and his folio is very interesting. And about your idea of pairing, i think warhol would cry and would stop to do web, after he looked at this wave of web “artists” thinking that web 2.0 icons are something more than s**t.

    Damn you, and you little brain.

    Read more

    0
  2. 2

    Nice post!

    1
  3. 3

    Have to agree a very nice post. :o)

    0
    • 4

      I work for an amazing living artist. Simon Bull is the official artist for Muhammad Ali and his art is amazing! you can see it on our website and on the online museum. http://www.bullart.com or just google his name Simon Bull.

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  4. 5

    great post…

    we painted that yellow joan miro pic in fourth grade ^^

    0
  5. 6

    Very nice post…

    0
  6. 7

    This author should be a genius!
    I cannot even think how many hours it would have been taken to prepare such a great post.
    Inspirational, indeed.

    1
  7. 8

    This post immediately got no1 in my favs. Thanks, Francisco and SM

    0
  8. 9

    Why no Katsushika Hokusai? Look at how the scenery in for instance Super Mario World is inspired by his art. He’s probably inspired a lot of other artists too over the years. :’3

    0
  9. 10

    Nice to see modern day graphic design related back to traditional art mediums, well done excellent article.

    0
  10. 11

    Great article, took a lot of time to sort that one out !!

    Not in to modern art, think its crap. No skill at all. Failed artists.

    0
  11. 12

    very nice…

    0
  12. 13

    One of the best post ever ! Very original and informative.
    Bravo !

    0
  13. 14

    I’m sorry, but this post shows a deep lack of understanding of Art History.

    Somebody needed to say it.

    1
  14. 15

    GREAT POST. Well done
    I don’t know much about fine arts, this is really something new.

    0
  15. 16

    Rolando S. Bouza

    August 27, 2009 3:34 am

    Beautiful post! Its been a great surprise to find ones of my favourite artists here (Basquiat and Miro)

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  16. 17

    Weak.

    The Warhol shoes, Chanel purse and the window vase are all obvious, it wouldn’t take much effort to find dozens of similar examples. Mondrian’s paintings from the 1920’s have been used as inspiration for decoration for just about everything. Yes, everything.

    The Killers album reminds me more of the tests for color blindness: if you want to put a Japanese name with that I’d choose Ishihara.

    The examples by “If Famous Painters Were Web Designers” I find weak too. Yup, I see some (small) similarities but with those painters, there are reasons why their paintings look the way they do and that’s not reflected in the websites. Tell me, what’s kubist about the Belvoir Fruit Farms website? By your example, it looks like Matisse could have designed Google’s website too. Oh and Ebay’s.

    (ps. typo: “Robert Irwan”)

    1
  17. 18

    Not so much a case of ‘If famous graphic artists were web designers’ more a case of here’s a bunch of websites that have been inspired by graphic artists.

    Agree with post above with regard to art history. I would probably go as far as to say lack of understanding web design as well. The two mediums are very different and have very different purposes, in fact you’d be hard pushed to suggest these sites are any more than a pastiche, which there’s nothing wrong with but to suggest it goes any deeper than that would be silly.

    1
  18. 19

    wow, great job on this post, very inspiring!

    0
  19. 20

    Nice post love it.

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  20. 21

    It’s great that someone wrote this because a lot of web designers have no clue about modern art history or design history, and really they should. Also great parallels between then and now even though some were just too obvious :) Really love it and hope you’ll make more posts like this SM. Great job.

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  21. 22

    agree with caesar and antony. some of them look similar, but that is where it ends. groundbreaking artists like these were all about rationale and manifestos.

    0
  22. 23

    Anthony one has already mentioned it, but this article is a great example of pastiche and noting more profound

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  23. 24

    “The best art in history was unprecedented and transcended its time. It sometimes seems as if the artists were conscious of future generations enjoying their work.”

    Really??? I don’t think so….

    I have to agree with an above post… this is not a good post regarding Art History 101.

    0
  24. 25

    Done good research… nice post.

    0
  25. 26

    ((i really enjoyed this article. i absolutely LOATH that tool bar that was on the top of the page when it loaded.. it made it impossible to scroll with the side bar.. just thought you should know. The comparisons, however, were fabulous!

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  26. 27

    I’m not convinced by this post, a lot of the examples are very thin and the resemblance is at best fleeting. I mean the brewery packaging doesn’t look anything like the Warhol to me. This article seems to make vast generalisations in order to argue its point.

    0
  27. 28

    In after art history elitists that need to justify their time spent looking at coloured frames in books online.

    0
  28. 29

    very interesting…

    0
  29. 30

    Awesome to the max.

    0
  30. 31

    My favorite is the Claude Monet web version…very smooth.

    0
  31. 32

    I never know before that Lazar Markovich Lissitzky was that important in the sphere of art and design. Thank you very much!!!

    0
  32. 33

    “So, is design today merely art created for the express purpose of generating profit?”

    Unfortunately, I think that’s the way the majority of my clients see things.

    Great post by the way, I think a few people might be missing the point. it’s nice to see how various styles started out before they were filtered and adapted onto different mediums over the years, I wasn’t expecting an in-depth history of Art, there’s plenty of copy written on that subject.

    0
  33. 34

    AMAZING POST! THANKS!!!!

    0
  34. 35

    Awesome post. Full marks.

    0
  35. 36

    be careful, with so many great posts, I can be more and more easily desappointed with the next one :D

    Thanks for your great job :D

    0
  36. 37

    Weak post

    0
  37. 38

    It’s good to see this topic show up but I have to say the title is deceiving. A lot of the “famous graphic artists” were actually not graphic artists but just straight-up painters. And the web designs they would have done would be different (better) than some of the done-a-thousand-times examples you have featured there. But I guess it’s an important topic that deserves more than just a blog entry.

    0
  38. 39

    A fine example of correlation not proving causation, but still being a lot of fun.

    0
  39. 40

    Sorry but I have to agree with Caesar Tjalbo’s comments — this is very, very lazy research and just mixing and matching obvious things that have no relation whatsoever (pairing a blue painting and a blue purse and saying the painting inspired the purse design is really stretching credibility). Similarly, the Soho Brewery packaging has nothing in common with the Warhol piece. I could go on, but you get the idea.

    The sad thing is that the majority of the comments (and readers) are applauding the article for its “great research” without actually thinking twice about it .
    This only propagates bad design education. Honestly, if you must write an article about a link between art and design read a book.

    0
  40. 41

    “”The sad thing is that the majority of the comments (and readers) are applauding the article for its “great research” without actually thinking twice about it .”

    I’m glad you know exactly how I read this article…and guesses exactly how my mind is made. That deserves a great article in your own best blog ever that has always best articles ever and should be much more read than smashing magazine.

    You’re the one Tom!

    0
  41. 42

    Great post, I just gave a VERY similar presentation last week. From Goya to Google: Traditional Design Principles at Work On the Web

    0
  42. 43

    Brilliant! Thanks!

    0
  43. 44

    Great collection…

    0
  44. 45

    @ Samoth:

    I based my comment on the amount of positive comments on this article and made an extrapolation from there.

    My problem with this article is that its based on absolutely nothing and disseminates incorrect information.

    1
  45. 46

    Awesome post! Great examples of how art influence commercial creations.

    0
  46. 47

    How do you know these web designers got their inspiration from these artists? Did you ask them, or did you just go poking around on the web haphazardly connecting things that might look just slightly similar to each other?

    0
  47. 48

    This post is so good on so many levels. So many great artists mentioned! It’s really cool to see them relate to design in the 21st century.

    Only disappointment… where is Sol Lewitt?

    0
  48. 49

    Fantastic post.

    0
  49. 50

    Me thinks Smashmag staffers smoke too much pot…

    0
  50. 51

    Francisco Inchauste

    August 27, 2009 6:21 am

    Thanks for the comments so far. I wanted to respond to a few like the one on “lazy” research. This took a long time to read through modern art books and cross reference modern day styles. The point is not a lesson in art history, but to show the strong influences on design today. The resources from the Museum of Modern Art, Time, and many others talk about these same ideas. No one can say what these artists may or may not have done, or how they would feel about web design today. The “If they were web designers” was just a more interesting way to say “here are some sites with a style/concept they influenced”.

    @Tom Muller said “pairing a blue painting and a blue purse.” Tom, It’s not just any random blue color. That purse is actually in International Klein Blue. Klein created his own blue hue and that color became the art when he painted it and saturated the canvas. That specific blue would not exist without Klein. And Chanel brought that exact patented blue into their purse design. So this is not a stretch.

    @Caesar Tjalbo Some examples are more direct than others. Like I mentioned, someone using Klein Blue (IKB) in a piece is directly from him. Others were to show the “look” of sites we create today are not fresh and original ideas, but a style that has evolved over the decades in various mediums. For example, Monet seen in the Viget blog when they use an image with an applied filter to give that similar feel. In these examples Chanel was directly influenced and Viget was indirectly influenced by that evolved style.

    @Pedro Gabriel That’s the point of the article, get people to find inspiration in art by reading a book or going to a museum.

    @Pete Understands the main point “see how various styles started out before they were filtered and adapted onto different mediums over the years”

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