|POP How Graphic Design Shapes Popular Culture book cover, cover design by James Victore|
At 288 pages, the book is surprisingly a quick read. It is organized into nine sections, each with its own subtopics. Heller provides a casual atmosphere within his discussions, allowing for the sometimes-confusing topics to be better understood. The book is also humorous, filled with clever titles and puns. Heller notes in his introduction,
Pop culture is often maligned as fleeting, but history shows that sometimes what is pop in one culture has time-honored resonance in later ones. This book is an attempt to show that pop culture, especially as seen through the lenses of design, illustration, satiric and political art (and other things), is integral to a broader understanding of who we are and where we are going.
|Yes We Did victory poster, Shepard Fairey, 2008|
|Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, created by Robert Fraser, design by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, photography by Michael Cooper, 1967|
Who doesn't love the Beatles? Their mark on recent pop culture is undeniably timeless, as is this album cover. I've seen this cover many, many times, but this time was different. I noticed the cover as a piece of art, specifically collage. It consists of the four-member band in the front, with several cardboard cutouts of famous people gathered behind them, including Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe and Karl Marx. Heller comments on the conceptual nature of the cover, crediting Fraser, Blake, Haworth and Cooper with "the breakthrough that launched an extremely popular trend in 'concept cover' art." It's interesting to note that as the Beatles' music became less "pop" sounding (especially seen and heard in their lyrics), the artwork of their albums reflected that change by becoming more conceptual. I was reminded of contemporary conceptual artist John Baldessari, as Heller allowed me to reevaluate something I thought was so familiar to me.
|New Jersey Restaurant, John Baeder, 30"x48", 2010|
Continuing with the notion of art for art's sake, what's more American than a diner? John Baeder is a contemporary painter, with a goal of recording on canvas every American eatery and diner. Heller comments on Baeder's transition from advertising to this method of recording, saying that although Baeder was known for "functional art," he devoted himself to "art on its own terms." Baeder documented these diners as a mere method of remembering and capturing them. There is no "utilitarian purpose." Heller further notes that Baeder's work is more than just "mastery of form and technique," but it's "a respite to the rigors of problem solving" in design. It simply serves as art.
I really enjoyed that Heller, although primarily focusing on graphic design, is able to relate that specific realm of art back to fine art and contemporary practices. Being able to see similar trends between graphic design and contemporary art was refreshing in the sense that it's all somehow connected. Heller successfully provided another platform for contemporary art by opening a door to collaboration between the graphic artist and the contemporary one.I highly recommend this book to young and old, even if it's just to cure your curiosity about design!
- Kerri Pearson