Case Study – Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Here is a case study produced in collaboration with another member of the Graphic Design group regarding Charles Rennie Mackintosh and how he is relevant to the progression of Graphic Design in relation to the discourses I was discussing in my previous blog post, which can be read here. As this case study had to be presented to the rest of the group, we both wrote notes to present from, which can be read below.

Modernity vs. Historicism:

  • Art Nouveau shared the same belief as the Arts and Crafts movement towards quality craftsmanship, but the difference here was the aim was to produce modern design, while some designers took this further by embracing mass production and new materials such as cast iron.
  • Art Nouveau took two forms; the ornamental, and the style Mackintosh produced that focused on simplicity and clarity, known as the ‘Glasgow style’. In retrospect it can be seen that Mackintosh’s modernist influences were closer to industrial design than the ornate Art Nouveau designs.

Design for Society:

  • With the Industrial Revolution, came a change to social classes. “For women who wanted to socialize in public, while avoiding the sordid reputation of the city’s pubs and nightclubs, the answer was the creation of tearooms” (also called Ladies’ Luncheon Rooms)
  • The owner of several tearooms, Catherine Cranston, wanted her establishments to “project a refined elegance, yet also to suggest the excitement of the modern city.”
  • To this extent Mackintosh created an overall vision to integrate all of the different elements of each room, from chairs to wall coverings, in a ‘single aesthetic’ (see image below) featuring a “blocky, rectilinear composition.” Link to image below here.

Political/Cultural influences:

  • In the poster for The Scottish Musical Review, the colour scheme used was inspired by that of the Scottish identity movement so had strong connotations to Scotland, and affirmed the identity of the ‘Glasgow style’ as well. Link to image below here.

  • Mackintosh was inspired by ‘Japonism’, the influence of Japanese arts on the western world, whose design principles of restraint and economy, with interior spaces focusing on a calming, organic feel being very popular. Edward Lutyens, another architect noted this influence, claiming Mackintosh’s work to be “all very elaborately simple”
  • The early concepts of modernism also influenced Mackintosh, with the focus being to provide a ’machine’ for living in, but the difference was he felt architecture should still focus on form to a degree, in contrast to the stark utilitarian world of the Bauhaus that followed where the ‘art’ was found in creating the best possible functionality.

Notes above by Alex Greenhead.

Decoration vs Simplicity:

  • The Art Nouveau style lends itself to being more decorative as opposed to simplicity. The complex mix of symmetry and asymmetry, organic and rectilinear shapes characterise the work of Mackintosh. An example of this is the Glasgow School of Arts. “The coffered grid of the ceiling is balanced with the sometimes irregular curves of the beams and the arches to form a composition that has a graceful, linear feel.”
  • The library fits well with the words of the architect Edward Lutyens (1864-1944), who said of another Mackintosh work that it was “all very elaborately simple”
  • In the painting ‘A Pond’ there is fluid, curvilinear forms suggesting the beginnings of a new graphic style at the time. Link to image below here.

Want vs Need:

  • The decorative elegance of Scottish Art Nouveau produced at Glasgow School of Arts served to provide an alternative world from which the difficulties of the industrial age could be banished, it also served to reject the caricature of the city and revel in the affluence of the Glasgow bourgeoisie.
  • This made the work of Mackintosh more of a want than a need at the time, it was used to distract from the industrial gloom.

Legacy of Mackintosh:

  • The Art Nouveau designs can still be seen today, especially the stained glass window design that is quite iconic.
  • The Mackintosh lettering he used in his work influenced Erik Spiekermann and MetaDesign to create the typeface ‘Glasgow’, which was used for the UK’s City of Architecture and Design for 1999, linking back to Mackintosh’s architectural designs. Link to image below here.

Notes above by Sam Aylard whose blog you can access by clicking on his name.