The Design Legacy of the World’s Most Famous Artists

Lead image: Vétheuil in Summer, Claude Monet

Throughout history there have been artists who have broken the mould by creating new ways of seeing and presenting the world. From Michelangelo to Tracy Emin, the unique artistic approaches these true visionaries have adopted have forced people to look further than the object itself when it comes to finding their meaning.

In short, their work has not just become something to look at in an art gallery. Instead, it has entered the public consciousness – influencing other artists to inspire further work, and being used in a wide number of contexts in different forms of expression.

Often these artists have been the standard-bearers for particular movements in art, as well as visionaries who have changes the way people regard art in general – as we’ll see from these examples.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 and is widely regarded as being the founder of the impressionist movement, whose other exponents included Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. The philosophy behind impressionism was to capture the world as we see it – literally as the general impression it makes on our eyes.

This flew in the face of what the influential French Academie of Art thought was right and proper. They believed in the precise and accurate representation of the world using subtle colour and precise lines. Similarly, before Monet began producing work, the composition of a painting was traditionally used to create a focal point – but impressionism was a far looser and less ordered technique.

One further way that Monet’s impressionism transformed the world of art was he it took painting out from the traditional studio into the open air. This method contrasted with studio painting or academic rules that might create a predetermined look of the subject being drawn. Monet’s famous series of paintings which captured the very essence of his gardens in Giverny are a great example of this change in approach.

Monet and his contemporaries also influenced the way in which photographers started to think about composition, too, as he made it acceptable to create images without a fixed focal point. Today it doesn’t take you long to find a professional shot image that has all the action taking place to the side, rather than in the centre – further illustrating Monet’s artistic influence.

Marcel Duchamp

 An illustration of Duchamp’s Fountain

An illustration of Duchamp’s Fountain

The early 20th century was a time of considerable upheaval in the world and Dadaism was a movement that grew up as a reaction to the folly of the First World War as well being a rejection of society in general.

The name “Dada” was even coined to represent a childish and nonsensical world where respect for authority was no longer needed or wanted.

While Marcel Duchamp was one of the later artists to become involved in the movement, he has also become one of the most famous.

Born in France in 1887, he later took on American nationality after his move to the country in 1916. Perhaps his most notorious work was one of the earliest he displayed. It was a sculpture called “Fountain” that was, in fact, a urinal signed under a pseudonym, R. Mutt, and presented as a work of art. Naturally, it created outrage at the time, but it was one of the first examples of the idea that art could take any form the artist wanted.

This is an idea that is still very much alive, from the notorious bricks in the Tate Gallery to the many unusual installations artists continue to create.

Salvador Dali

A melting clock from Dali’s The Persistence of Memory

A melting clock from Dali’s The Persistence of Memory

Unlike the Dada-ists who celebrated negativity and rejected conventional values, the surrealists were more interested in exploring human psychology and perception.

Undoubtedly, the most famous exponent of this movement was Salvador Dali. Born in Spain in 1904, from an early age he set about making himself an art object with a distinctive look and style all of his own.

Dali was fascinated by the work of Sigmund Freud and attempted to explore the human subconscious with his art, often producing the sorts of images that we might see in our dreams – whether this would be a landscape of melting clocks or a sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips.

In everything he did, Dali courted public interest and even outrage, so it’s hardly surprising that his influence is still so widely apparent today.

For example, advertising has always been a very keen consumer of the surrealist style and it’s been used to promote everything from cars to men’s razors. Similarly, many architects have also taken a distinctly surrealist approach to designing everything from museum buildings to private homes.

Dali himself dabbled in many areas including sculpture, films and fashion and a reliance on surrealist imagery can also still be seen in all of these fields today.

Andy Warhol

A vector illustration similar to Warhol’s brand of pop art

A vector illustration similar to Warhol’s brand of pop art

Born in Pittsburgh in 1928, Andy Warhol is the most famous the artists who defined and developed the pop art movement.

This arose as a reaction to the popular and youth culture that was emerging in the 1960s alongside an increasingly commercialised world. The visual style was big and brash, often using the imagery and style of comic books.

One area that particularly fascinated Warhol was taking an iconic image or design, whether it was Marilyn Monroe’s face or a soup can, and repeating it in a pattern.

The aim was to elevate the everyday and the banal into a striking new form, transforming the way that it is seen.

Even though he died over 20 years ago, in 1987, Warhol’s influence is still evident today. Warhol’s use of repetition has been adopted by many other artists, including Damien Hirst’s spot paintings.

influencing the world around us

Warhol’s key role in the emergence of pop art also means he’s had an indirect hand in the application of pop art around the world, from its inception in the 1950s to the present day.

Pop art has been used as a design style in the world of fashion, furniture, and even websites – check out the UK bingo site design and you’ll soon catch a glimpse of pop-art in action.

Looking at it from a broader perspective, almost every art trend from the last couple of centuries continue to influence the world around us.

With so many businesses and commercial enterprises now switched on to the need for eye-catching creative to win more customers, the lines between art and commerce have never been more blurred. And while artists like Warhol and Dali might applaud this, one can only imagine what Marcel Duchamp would think.

All images from Shutterstock (Everett – Art; mazura1989; Ekkapop Sittiwantana)