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NEXT.cc is an eco web that develops ethical imagination and environmental stewardship. NEXT.cc introduces what design is, what design does and why design is important through over 100 journeys.

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Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was a turn of the century (late 19th and early 20th) interest in nature by artists, graphic designers, fashion designers, jewelry, craftspeople and architects. It was in many ways a response against mass production of industry and technology in its quest to look to nature and nature patterns for inspiration. Art Nouveau artists and designers believed the arts should work in harmony to create a “total work of art,” or Gesamtkunstwerk. Nature and natural forms became inspiration for patterns, decorative art, advertising, furniture, interiors and architecture. Art Nouveau designs were characterized by forms of floral elements, accentuating the curves and geometries of leaf, flowers, seedling of plants. Art Nouveau artists and designers created images and forms to connect fine and applied arts and center them on human life. Every object in or on the building related in design to the whole. “Art Nouveau” was the term commonly used in England; in Germany the corresponding term was “Jugendstil” , the style of youth. In Italy, art nouveau was called “stile Liberty” and in France it was called “style floréal” (floral style). Art Nouveau is characterized by decorative and abstracted depiction of organic forms in nature in graphics, textiles, object. furniture, space and architecture.

Activity 1 Art Nouveau Vernacular

Art Nouveau is a style of art and architecture that took place during that latter part of the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century. Having origins in Brussels, Belgium and Paris, France, it spread quickly through Europe; artisans in each country lent their own distinct variation to create a unique vernacular derivation of the style.

Take a look into the ways that Art Nouveau progressed throughout different countries. What differences can you find in the way that artists/architects portrayed this particular style? Take a look at Antonio Gaudi in Spain, Hector Guimard in France, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland, and Victor Horta in Belgium. What are the similarities between different countries? Research and produce a map of Europe. Paste printed images of examples of works associated with the different regions. Use this research to gain inspiration, and help further your understanding of the movement of Art Nouveau as a movement that embraced a humane relationship with nature.

Activity 2 Organic Forms and Industrial Design

In order to understand Art Nouveau design as a principal for designing, a good place to start is with a plant or flower. Find a plant in your house, yard or garden. Start by sketching the plant paying close attention to the shape and arrangement of leaves, buds and flowers. Now take your sketch and create an abstract graphic from the floral forms. a lamp is always a good place to start. Pick features of the plant that are striking to you, what stands out? Does this plant have a bud or blossom that could represent the light source of this lamp's design? Let the stem structure of this plant heavily influence you in your decisions as to how you are going to design the stand of this lamp. All in all, let the final product reflect the plant, rather than stray from it. Make decisions based on the geometries found in your plant (Nature).

Activity 3 Catenary Architecture

Archways contain a certain physics that can be difficult to comprehend. How does a bridge or an archway work? How can it support weight? Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) demonstrates, through a simple process, an easily comprehendible method of how through nature it is easy to produce an archway that will never fail. If you take a chain or rope and let it hang freely, the curve produced can then be flipped, thus creating an archway strong enough to support the displaced weight. Make a chain of paper clips, 20 to be exact. Then hang this chain on the back of two chairs, keeping in mind the arch that is made without any weight added. Then you can start adding binder clips to the chain, starting with one in the middle, documenting the shape of the arch, then continue to add weight to both sides of the center continuously moving up the sides of the chain, documenting each addition of two weights. What do you notice in the shape of the arch? Continue to play with where weights are on the chain, but also think symmetrically about where you put these weights. If you were to invert the shape created, it will sustain the load used to create it.

Antoni Gaudí used this method in designing some of the world's finest examples of Art Nouveau Architecture, a rare occurrence in our world's modern landscape.

Activity 4 Up In Smoke

Natural geometries can be found everywhere; sea shells, plants, even in the swirling of freshly poured creamer into a cup of hot coffee. Take a look at the art of one of the most famous “Art Nouveau” artists; Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). What was his inspiration for his poster designs? For this exercise you will gain inspiration from the smoke of a household candle. Light the candle, then with your sketchbook or with a camera handy, capture the smoke of this candle once you blow it out. What organic forms can you distinguish from this smoke? The consistency of this smoke should inspire you to move your pencil freely in organic swirls across your page. Take this image and use it to produce an advertisement for the candle. Try to capture the movement of the smoke as it escapes the extinguished wick of the candle. Try to incorporate as many organic moves into the piece as possible. Use your knowledge of “Art Nouveau” to create a poster that makes your eyes move in a consistent, free-flowing matter.

Activity 5 Floral Tendril Pattern

Review

  1. The artists and designers producing work, which can be called “Art Nouveau”, sought inspiration from _____________.

  2. Art Nouveau was the term most often used to describe this approach to design in which country?

  3. Gesamtkunstwerk is a German word meaning ______________.

  4. The Art Nouveau period took place during____________.

  5. Visually, the style of Art Nouveau emphasizes __________.

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