Comparing Contemporaries

To begin a comparison between Alexey Brodovitch and Jan Tschichold, it is first important to look at the parallels in their lives.  Both were born to middle class families in fin de siècle Europe, raised with art in the household and studied art at a young age.  Each was forced to emigrate from their homeland by the turmoil’s of war to parts of Europe that were more politically neutral, and each in their twenties experienced a pivotal turning point in their career as designers.  Both Brodovitch and Tschichold left their countries of emigration at the invitation to work abroad – Brodovitch to America and Tschichold to Britain.  Each is credited with spreading European style in their respected countries, both through teaching and the high visibility of their work.  Each had a career that spanned roughly 40 years, returned to Europe in their later years, and died within three years of the other.

Though their stories relate, their creative aesthetics differed dramatically.  Part of what makes their work so unlike each other is the specific part of Europe where they lived and worked.  Brodovitch began his life in Russia, the birthplace of the avant-garde movement, but his time in Russia was spent in the military – his artistic endeavors really came to light only after his move to Paris.  The French were known for art full of energy and expression, and were responsible for the first collages and mixed media pieces.  Moreover, his early work is tinged with surrealism, the European hub of which was Paris.  It is also quite possible that living in Paris, Brodovitch would have been familiar with the work of another Russian raised in France, Apollinaire, whose expressive typography seems a direct influence on Brodovitch’s later type layout with Harper’s. The weight of couture fashion in Paris of the 1920’s is not to be overlooked when considering his ease in translating style on page from attire to a way of life.

German born, Tschichold had boyhood aspirations of following in his father’s footsteps as a script writer, but around the independent age of 20, he fell hard for the local Bauhaus style, radical in comparison to his art and calligraphic background.  Influenced by the work of Russian born El Lissitzky and Hungarian Laslo Maholy-Nagy, Tschichold began to seek balance in arrangement, and craved the propagation of this New Typographic style.  Due to close proximity during the golden age of the Bauhaus, Tschichold could serve as an active player in the movement.  The shift in his design ideals to a bit more flexible stance nearly coincided with his move to Switzerland.  Perhaps after the tumultuous experience leaving the country of his birth, a bit of enlarged perspective may have softened his strict ideologies.  However, his work ethic and desire for the highest quality in design refused to waiver.

Brodovitch and Tschichold were both considered to be immensely influential to a new generation of graphic designers, which directly correlates to the interwar timeframe.  Between World Wars I and II, many artists fled Europe for England and the United States, bringing with them European design aesthetics new to the countries who remained rooted in traditionalism and realism, seeing few European influences before the time.  Brodovitch’s fresh Euro-modernist style was likely as sexy to Americans at the time as it is today – viewed as the epitome of modern beauty and sophistication. “Brodovitch brought an entirely new sense of orchestration, scale, pitch, flow, line, accent, and form to the magazine.  By then a man of two cultures, he was able to join the maturity and sophistication of European sensibility with the dynamism of America”(5).  Tschichold’s story is no different in this respect, arriving in 1930’s England, where the devotion to bookmaking of the Arts and Crafts movement was fading to little structured commercial printing long set in traditional layouts.  With an enlightened design maturity, Tschichold was a beacon for new organization, clarity, and quality in design whose modernist style became vastly imitated through the country.

It is important to recognize that at their cores, the two men designed with three key elements in mind: photography, text, and open space.  Brodovitch handled these as complete equals and designed in a much more organic way that he compared to ‘open dialogue’(3).  Tschichold used them to create geometric balance in his impeccably considered compositions.  Ultimately, the course of design has been altered by their contributions however they may have arrived at them.

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