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Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic's History of 20th Century Graphic Design

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There used to be a time when designers were trained in the history of composition. Now you just buy a fuckin' piece of software and now you've become a designer. "Art Chantry . . . Is he a Luddite?" asks a Rhode Island School of Design poster promoting a Chantry lecture. "Or is he a graphic design hero?" For decades this avatar of low-tech design has fought against the cheap There used to be a time when designers were trained in the history of composition. Now you just buy a fuckin' piece of software and now you've become a designer. "Art Chantry . . . Is he a Luddite?" asks a Rhode Island School of Design poster promoting a Chantry lecture. "Or is he a graphic design hero?" For decades this avatar of low-tech design has fought against the cheap and easy use of digital software. Chantry's homage to expired technology, and his inspired use of Xerox machines and X-Acto blade cuts of printed material, created a much-copied style during the grunge period and beyond. Chantry's designs were published in Some People Can't Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry (Chronicle Books), exhibited at the Seattle Art Museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, and the Louvre. More recently, Chantry has drawn upon his extraordinary collection of twentieth-century graphic art to create compelling histories of the forgotten and unknown on essays he has posted on his Facebook page. These essays might lionize the unrecognized illustrators of screws, wrenches, and pipes in equipment catalogs. Other posts might reveal how some famous artists were improperly recognized. Art Chantry Speaks is the kind of opinionated art history you've always wanted to read but were never assigned.


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There used to be a time when designers were trained in the history of composition. Now you just buy a fuckin' piece of software and now you've become a designer. "Art Chantry . . . Is he a Luddite?" asks a Rhode Island School of Design poster promoting a Chantry lecture. "Or is he a graphic design hero?" For decades this avatar of low-tech design has fought against the cheap There used to be a time when designers were trained in the history of composition. Now you just buy a fuckin' piece of software and now you've become a designer. "Art Chantry . . . Is he a Luddite?" asks a Rhode Island School of Design poster promoting a Chantry lecture. "Or is he a graphic design hero?" For decades this avatar of low-tech design has fought against the cheap and easy use of digital software. Chantry's homage to expired technology, and his inspired use of Xerox machines and X-Acto blade cuts of printed material, created a much-copied style during the grunge period and beyond. Chantry's designs were published in Some People Can't Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry (Chronicle Books), exhibited at the Seattle Art Museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, and the Louvre. More recently, Chantry has drawn upon his extraordinary collection of twentieth-century graphic art to create compelling histories of the forgotten and unknown on essays he has posted on his Facebook page. These essays might lionize the unrecognized illustrators of screws, wrenches, and pipes in equipment catalogs. Other posts might reveal how some famous artists were improperly recognized. Art Chantry Speaks is the kind of opinionated art history you've always wanted to read but were never assigned.

30 review for Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic's History of 20th Century Graphic Design

  1. 5 out of 5

    Marsinah

    It's not just anyone who can say that their knowledge of the history of the smiley face and its regional variants helped derail a mayoral campaign, but Art Chantry can. His book is an entertaining read comprised of collected, informal essays and examples of graphic work illustrating the styles and designers discussed. There's a sense of humor that can be snarky and a bit self deprecating in the book. It pops up in essays about history, styles, and trends in his design world as well as essays abo It's not just anyone who can say that their knowledge of the history of the smiley face and its regional variants helped derail a mayoral campaign, but Art Chantry can. His book is an entertaining read comprised of collected, informal essays and examples of graphic work illustrating the styles and designers discussed. There's a sense of humor that can be snarky and a bit self deprecating in the book. It pops up in essays about history, styles, and trends in his design world as well as essays about prominent designers and others who, although influential, fell by the wayside. The author's forward mentions that many of the essays were composed for an informal forum and reproduced as is. As such, readers will find the occasional swear word and typo. It doesn't diminish the knowledge or content. (Book was happily read and reviewed after being won in a drawing.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Corby Plumb

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as a fan of graphic/commercial art and as an ex-design student. It was as if you were stepping into a Museum of Graphic Design and Chantry instead leads you into the basement, saying "Fuck that this is where all the cool stuff is." This book reminded me so much of Greil Marcus' "Lipstick Traces" in its secret history and connecting such disparate things like tool catalogs to fake psychedelia to sci fi paperbacks to early punk to the story of the happy face in the I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as a fan of graphic/commercial art and as an ex-design student. It was as if you were stepping into a Museum of Graphic Design and Chantry instead leads you into the basement, saying "Fuck that this is where all the cool stuff is." This book reminded me so much of Greil Marcus' "Lipstick Traces" in its secret history and connecting such disparate things like tool catalogs to fake psychedelia to sci fi paperbacks to early punk to the story of the happy face in the overall history of design. He profiles heroes like Sister Corita, Cal Schenkel and Harry Chester while tearing apart the reverred gods of design. He reminds us that most great design is trash and his disdain for current "high design", corporate design and design teaching and trends is expressed throughout. I cannot recommend this book enough.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Russell

    Everything important about the history of contemporary graphic design that they don't teach in art school. An irreverent look at modern design and what it owes to counterculture movements and American trash culture, that takes a hard look at the validity of the mythology we’ve bestowed upon revered design idols like Paul Rand and Milton Glaser. Chantry pulls no punches and bows to no fads. Essential reading. Everything important about the history of contemporary graphic design that they don't teach in art school. An irreverent look at modern design and what it owes to counterculture movements and American trash culture, that takes a hard look at the validity of the mythology we’ve bestowed upon revered design idols like Paul Rand and Milton Glaser. Chantry pulls no punches and bows to no fads. Essential reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tim Thompson

    "Heretic" is an apt word, as Chantry offers a valuable perspective on graphic design history that pokes holes in commonly accepted tropes. Was Paul Rand really great or was he a great promoter? (Overrated and Yes.) He also posits that people who lived longer became more celebrated than those that died younger. Prepare to have your current worldviews on design questioned and revisited, but you'll never be bored. "Heretic" is an apt word, as Chantry offers a valuable perspective on graphic design history that pokes holes in commonly accepted tropes. Was Paul Rand really great or was he a great promoter? (Overrated and Yes.) He also posits that people who lived longer became more celebrated than those that died younger. Prepare to have your current worldviews on design questioned and revisited, but you'll never be bored.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Willy Boy

    louis malle told his editor something like: 'if you start getting awards for your editing I'm going to stop working with you. your editing should be invisible'. the graphic designer is similarly confined to an anonymous ego-denying ghetto, although their work is everywhere. the distinction between the hardworking artisan devoted to the work as a vocation, and the ego-driven artist, fuelled by a divine muse or sense of self-importance. things being what they are, these distinctions no doubt cross louis malle told his editor something like: 'if you start getting awards for your editing I'm going to stop working with you. your editing should be invisible'. the graphic designer is similarly confined to an anonymous ego-denying ghetto, although their work is everywhere. the distinction between the hardworking artisan devoted to the work as a vocation, and the ego-driven artist, fuelled by a divine muse or sense of self-importance. things being what they are, these distinctions no doubt cross-pollinate, and contain the other in miniature. take a leaf from the astrologers and conceive of artisan with artist rising, or vice versa. I disagree with many of Mr Chantry's assertions in this book, in a spirit of friendly argument, but there is no denying the excellence of the visual riches assembled herein. In fact, I feel the only major failure is that it was not designed as a large format trade paperback that favours the visuals - there is an excellent book called In The Studio edited by Tod Hignite which could serve as an example. And the front cover artwork is genuinely bad, I think intentionally? But bad in an uninteresting way that could make many pass it by, which would be a shame.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

    By the time I became aware of Art Chantry, he was already celebrated as the down-and-dirty designer of the "look" of Grunge. I was fascinated by his DIY approach to graphic design, partly because of my own interest in self-publishing. And his genius for making great images out of the cheapest stuff at hand was always remarkable. At lot of it is because he understands print production so well, the whole process of preparing a something for the printing press so it'll come out good quality and a g By the time I became aware of Art Chantry, he was already celebrated as the down-and-dirty designer of the "look" of Grunge. I was fascinated by his DIY approach to graphic design, partly because of my own interest in self-publishing. And his genius for making great images out of the cheapest stuff at hand was always remarkable. At lot of it is because he understands print production so well, the whole process of preparing a something for the printing press so it'll come out good quality and a good price, too. This gives him a street-savvy perspective on design and the other arts, whether "fine" or "applied," as well. Thought-provoking as hell, and actually, a hell of a fun read, if you like this kind of thing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    José

    I always thought it would be wonderful if Art turned his Facebook posts into a book, well he did. And it is as good as I expected, lots of small articles about a lost era. Punk graphics, match labels, vintage supermarket packaging, old printing techniques... If you are interested in knowing how graphic design was before computers, or you are a someone with a lot of curiosity about how the world works, get this. Now!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Troy

    I was prepared for rants from an old professional, yelling about kids and staying off his lawn, which is half of his FB feed. What I got was pretty detailed reminisces and examples of what he considers old design, as well as some inspirations off the beaten path. Truly enjoyable book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    NormaCenva

    This book is a bit of an odd-ball for me, but it makes it even better! Interesting and very well put together.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leighanna

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  12. 4 out of 5

    Will Pfeifer

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  14. 4 out of 5

    Samantha S

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Hedlund

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lora

  17. 4 out of 5

    CBSD Library

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dale

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Cree

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jon Housknecht

  23. 5 out of 5

    Evol

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kassy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Peter Markham

  26. 4 out of 5

    Scott Boms

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nathaniel

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Lynam

  29. 4 out of 5

    Zahid Mahmood

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liz

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