Bradbury the successfulness of his career. Thompson, symbolically,

Bradbury
Thompson was born in Kansas in 1911. Thompson appears to be a major figure in
design history that always had a strong interest in the arts and design. In
both middle school and high school, he put a lot of energy into developing his
craft. Studiousness is an important trait to be recognized in Bradbury Thompson
because it is something that greatly affected the successfulness of his career.

Thompson, symbolically, fits the mold of the American underdog. He started
small in Kansas and used his revolutionary will, intelligence, and
steadfastness in order to bring himself to the big city of New York where he
would gain an incredible amount of triumph. In a sense, Thompson achieved an
American dream. Why is that important? In terms of the art historical canon,
Bradbury Thompson is among some of the first American designers to make a significant
impact on the world of visual communication with their work and did so during a
time where this alluring ideal of an American dream starts become a ubiquitous
force not only in the United States but also all over the world. Post-war
America was a land of opportunity not only for Americans but also for people
immigrating into America.

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He
attended Washburn University in Topeka and graduated in 1934 with a bachelor of
arts degree for economics. Thompson’s logic behind perusing an economics degree
lies in the fact that he recognized the importance of commerce to design. The
Washburn University alumni website makes note that during his college education
he was an active student and designer. He is stated to have been the editor of
two editions of the Kaw yearbook and the designer of multiple volumes of the
college annual (Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation). Proceeding
his college experience, he designed for Capper Publications for a short period
of time.  Thompson’s time at Capper Publications
was short but well spent given that during his time there he thoroughly
familiarized himself with the printing process (Rochester Institute of
Technology). The work he did in printing at this time would go on to inform his
designs in the future, especially when Thompson later migrated to New York
where he would become a prominent figure of the New York School Movement.

Before
going in-depth about the New York School as well as Thompson’s role in the
movement, it is important to understand some history and context in which the
school came to be. Prior to the events of World War I and World War II Europe
lead as a vastly dominant force in the arts. The rise of fascism in Europe,
especially Germany, endangered innovative design. For example, Nazis had targeted
artists of the Bauhaus in Germany and labeled the work of the Bauhaus as anti-German
and degenerate art. This was unfortunate because the Bauhaus was leading in new
design education as well as the development of graphic design from a craft to a
profession. Incidents like the staff of the Bauhaus being fired occurred in
Dessau and the Berlin location was closed down due to pressure coming from the German
government. The Bauhaus still went on to become one of the most influential
design schools to date given that many of the influential artists of the
Bauhaus like Walter Gropius and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy made the decision to flee
from Germany. As war ravaged the continent, many of Europe’s pioneering artists
left for America where their knowledge was able to live on.

Artists
who were apart of the mass exodus from Europe to America were particularly
drawn to New York and their influence would turn the city and country into a
powerhouse of contemporary art. America was ripe for the cultural boom given the
expansion of industry and economy the country was facing. The New York School
movement started at the same time as America’s post-war economic growth during
the 1940s. This movement would be characterized by designers and artists who
competitively sought success through commerce and did so through designs that
would boldly capture an audience’s attention. “Gross national product, a
measure of all goods and services produced in the United States, jumped from
about $200 thousand-million in 1940 to $300 thousand-million in 1950 to more
than $500 thousand-million in 1960″ (University of Groningen). Meggs’ history
of design describes American design as pragmatic, intuitive, and more informal
in its approach to organizing space” (Meggs 1992, 350-22). Although the 1940s
was the decade where modern art could begin to really flourish in the United
States, America’s first taste of European Modernism can be traced back to New
York’s Armory Show in 1913. This
exhibition mixed a number of American painters with the work of European
artists like Picasso, Duchamp, and Matisse. Tom Vitale of NPR makes note that
the Armory Show of 1913 was the first
time the phrase “avant-garde” was used to describe a painting or sculpture
(Vitale, 2013).

With
this all in mind, we can go back to the subject of Bradbury Thompson with a
better understanding of how he fits into the New York School movement and the
canon of western art history.  His
designs for Westvaco Inspirations are
recognized as some of his most notable works. One article by Todd Hays asserts
that Thompson worked “within limited budgets” but also “pioneered new ways of
working with the four-color process plates and the type-case” (Hays, 1990).

Meggs’ history of design also states Bradbury’s ability to utilize his
adventurous spirit and experimental nature allowed him to further develop what
was possible with design (Meggs 1992, 352-22). Westavaco Inspirations was an American publication created by the
Westavaco corporation with the intention of showcasing a variety of graphic art
and the printing process on paper provided by the corporation. As one could
assume from the title, the work is meant to inspire printers and designers. There
is an undeniably classical quality to Thompson’s work for Westvaco Inspirations that is beautifully combined with European
modern sentiments. When looking at work like his pages from Westavaco Inspirations, 151, 1945. you
see fine illustrations that are juxtaposed with bold geometric shapes but done
so with a unique finesse. Thompson’s skill in creating distinctive design
solutions makes his work very compelling because it gives his work a quality of
playfulness that feels welcoming to the viewer. This is also what makes
Bradbury Thompson such a great example of a New York School designer.

Many
of the designs done for Westavaco by Thompson primarily use cyan, magenta,
yellow and black (CMYK). These designs also utilize offset lithography and
letterpress printing in the creation process. Offset lithography is a printing
process in which an inked image on a printing plate is printed onto a rubber
cylinder and then offset/transferred onto paper or another type material
(Encyclopedia Britannica). Letterpress printing involves reproducing an image
by repeatedly placing a raised and inked surface onto paper (Encyclopedia
Britannica). Printmaking is definitely a very technical and skill-based
specialty and, as previously mentioned, Thompson’s background in printing had a
definite effect on the work he created.

Knowing
how difficult the actual work of printing is we can understand there’s an
underlining goal of perfection that is applied to Thompson’s work. The designs
he made also speak volumes to the phrase “You learn the rules so you can break
them”. A designer would not as easily reach solutions that “go outside the box”
so to speak if said designer did not know they were in a box in the first place
or know the contents of this metaphorical box. Thompson is like a scientist of
the visual arts given the fact he used his technical based knowledge to come up
with creative solutions to any given problem.

Bradbury
Thompson also seems to be influenced by magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and
Harper’s Bazaar and, according to AIGA, he considered these to be “good
magazines” (AIGA). Thompson’s belief that the aforementioned magazines are
“good” is something worth investigating. What does that say about his
character? How did these magazines inform his work? Well, one thing that can be
gleaned from his fascination with these magazines is a concern for beauty and
aesthetics. Also, fashion magazines during the mid-20th century in
America were among the firsts to readily accept modernism in their designs.

Take the September of 1930 cover of Harper’s Bazaar for example. The image
exudes simple elegance with a strong use of flat color, simple line work,
geometric shapes, and solid composition. The viewer’s eye is moved across the
piece by the visual hierarchy happening across the page. Your eye begins at the
“Harper’s Bazaar” title written at the top in white sans-serif letters and is
moved down to woman’s white coat which leads you to the car’s headlights that
sits next to “Furs and Fabrics Cosmetics” written in a smaller scale with
thinner line weight than “Harper’s Bazaar” at the top. The usage of white works
because it is offset by a vibrant red and purple background. This is a very
solid design approach and work of this caliber is generally seen across the
board with the magazines mentioned prior.

If
not readily present in his work for Westvaco, we can see the influence of these
magazines in his work for the women’s fashion magazine Mademoiselle. Bradbury
Thompson was the art director for mademoiselle for a little over a decade
beginning in 1945. According to a Kent State University timeline of his career,
Mademoiselle magazine was aimed towards the “the new working” girl in post-war America
(Kent State University) The covers and spreads done for Mademoiselle during
Thompson’s time as art director share a visual likeness to Man Ray and Alexey
Brodovitch’s designs for Harper’s Bazaar which happened somewhat simultaneously
with Thompson’s work. Ray and Brodovitch have a much more surreal and
avant-garde approach compared to Thompson. There’s something undeniably
American and down-to-earth about Mademoiselle under Thompson’s direction. The
regard for industry, capital, and practicality represent themselves through the
work while the more European counterpart has more of a focus in a very formalized
version of beauty and artistry more akin to fine art.

During
the time of the New York School movement of design Bradbury Thompson also worked
as the design director for ARTnews magazine. ARTnews magazine is a New York
based publication that covers topics related to the arts from all time periods.

The fact that Thompson would work as a design director for a magazine that is
entirely focused on visual art also shows his passion for art in general. According
to the New York Times Bradbury Thompson even employed artists like Andy Warhol,
Joan Miro, Willem de Kooning and Jasper Johns to do illustrations for
Mademoiselle magazine (Van Gelder, Lawrence 1995). It is obvious from adolescence
to his late career that Thompson personally has a high regard for visual art. This
is a man who followed his fervor for art into fantastic acclaim.

We’ve covered a
lot specific details thus far but now let’s look at a few big-picture ideals in
relation to Bradbury Thompson, art, design, business, and legitimacy. There is
a considerable amount of debate on whether or not graphic design is art but
also on whether or not graphic design is truly a profession. When we consider
that some would believe that graphic design is not a profession and that
graphic design is not an art it raises the question “what is graphic design?”.

Is a graphic designer someone to be seen as a person with less legitimacy than
a business person or fine artist? No. Why? Well, think about the life and work
of Bradbury Thompson as an example of the power of graphic design. As
previously touched on, Thompson grew up in a relatively small city in Kansas
and even as he began his career he had to work with limited resources and, of
course, to work under such means is not an easy feat. Did he ever give up?
Obviously he did not, given the fact that he went on to become a director at
multiple magazines, teach at Yale, and received a multitude of honors for his
efforts. That sort of dedication should be honored and the esteem given to the
graphic designers who put in that much work is rightfully earned.

One
also has to consider that after all that has transpired in art beginning in the
20th century that art is a bit hard to define. There are so many
different philosophies and opinions that can be applied to the visual arts. Art
can be very cerebral and full of many different complexities. Many perceive art
as emotional and design as technical. The commercial aspect of graphic design
seems to play a significant hand in design being seen as something that is very
detached from creativity and emotion. One AIGA article states “Commercialism
has been dictating the course of design and has made a clear and thick line
between the artist and the designer. Following trends and applying imagery
based on specific needs and goals is the easy part, allowing yourself to
express a message or emotion free of any specifications is where true beauty is
born” (Elimeliah, Craig, 2006). It would appear that the best sort of design
strikes a balance between the chaotic emotion associated with art and the
rational technicality of field like engineering. It is understandable why
commercialism would have such power over graphic design especially when we look
at the American history of visual communications.

Starting around the 1940s business began to see
how good design could help them become more successful. But what makes a
successful design? There’s also a decent amount of debate surrounding this
question. Although some standards seem universal, not all designers have the
same set of values when it comes to design work. In fact, some designers, like
the ones who fit under the umbrella of post-modern design, prioritize pushing
boundaries and have a bit more of chaotic approach to visual communication. On
the other hand, we have des

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