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When I started thinking about Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design I automaically go back to Maud Lavins book, Clean New World.

Our culture is dominated by the visual. Everything we see has the power to attract an audience or not. Yet most writing on design reflects a narrow preoccupation with products, biographies, and design influences. Maud Lavin approaches design from the broader field of visual culture criticism, asking challenging questions about about who really has a voice in the culture and what unseen influences affect the look of things designers produce. Lavin shows how design fits into larger questions of power, democracy, and communication. Many corporate clients instruct designers to convey order and clarity in order to give their companies the look of a clean new world. But since designers cannot clean up messy reality, Lavin shows, they often end up simply veiling it.

A perfect example of all this is Sheppard Ferry and his contribution to the Obama/Biden campaign.The way he was able to but images and words together was not just powerfu but memorable, so people associated with his work and many say he is one of the largest atrubutes to  Obamas success.


Lacking the power to influence the content of their commercial work, many designers work simultaneously on other, more fulfilling projects. Lavin is especially interested in the graphic designer’s role in shaping cultural norms. She examines the anti-Nazi propaganda of John Heartfield, the modernist utopian design of Kurt Schwitters and the neue ring werbegestalter, the alternative images of women by studio ringl + pit, the activist work of such contemporary designers as Marlene McCarty and Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and the Internet innovations of David Steuer and others. Throughout the book, Lavin asks how designers can expand the pleasure, democracy, and vitality of communication.

Here is another article that is very relatiev to this discusion.


<!—-> <!—-> <!—->Spin is in. With everything from Pepsi-Cola to politicians being packaged for public consumption, Maud Lavin, who teaches art history and visual culture at the Art Institute of Chicago, argues that the visual language speaks louder than words. In ”Clean New World,” she discusses the divergent voices of graphic artists whose images have shaped society. Although meticulously researched and illustrated, Lavin’s very scholarly analysis requires a dedicated reader. Her collection of essays begins with the anti-Nazi photomontages of John Heartfield, an intellectual hero to 1980’s artists like the group Gran Fury, the visual arts affiliate of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (Act Up). She also explores the representation of women by female artists and the role visual propaganda played in polarizing the abortion debate. Lavin’s essays pose interesting questions, but too often the answers are buried in academic verbiage. Some nuggets are worth digging out. In 1993, the Barbie Liberation Organization switched the voice boxes on 300 Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls. With a pamphlet denouncing sexism and violence in the toy industry in every box, the dolls were put back in stores in time for Christmas. The rewired Barbies now bellowed ”Eat lead, Cobra!” while the G.I. Joes trilled, ”Let’s go shopping!”


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