In this paper, I consider the way the French graphic arts magazine Arts et métiers graphiques (Graphic Arts and Crafts, 1927-1939) responded to New Typography, a form of typography that had its origins in the Central European avant-gardes and that strove for maximal clarity, submitting the form of printed matter to its function, and how this response is typical of the magazine’s cautious stance towards international avant-garde art—a position characteristic of France in the interwar period. A central work of New Typography is Die neue Typographie (1928),1 written by the German typographer Jan Tschichold, who is generally seen as one of the most important designers of the first half of the twentieth century. While other artists such as László Moholy-Nagy had already published on this new conception of design, Tschichold distilled and elaborated their ideas in what he wanted to be a theoretical and practical handbook for printers and designers that was in tune with the modern age of the machine and the engineer. In France, New Typography never really took off, as most designers stuck to the French typographic tradition, many of them probably wary of anything German after World War I. The creators of Arts et métiers graphiques —all of them printers or publishers, called together by type founder Charles Peignot—wanted to modernize French typography, and curiously but cautiously looked across the borders for innovative design, also to New Typography, all the while steering clear of the more aggressive aspects of the art of the historical avant-gardes and trying to preserve a well-established French tradition. This is typical of French culture in that period: after World War I, and as a reaction to the excesses of the international avant-gardes, France sought recourse to its national tradition, in what has widely been termed the retour à l’ordre.2
The New Typography and Tschichold, its spokesman, certainly caught the interest of the editors of Arts et métiers graphiques. Some of its principles were adopted in an attempt to modernize French typography, but other aspects proved to be irreconcilable with the national tradition the magazine sought to uphold—even after Tschichold had already toned down the more radical aspects of New Typography in his handbook. The motivations for this half-hearted reception are numerous. French nationalism and anti-German feelings following the war undoubtedly played a role, but Tschichold and Arts et métiers graphiques also had very different conceptions of printed matter. Whereas Tschichold advocated a functional and anonymous design and standardization, Arts et métiers graphiques favored the work of individuals that connected artistry and craftsmanship (métier). The magazine’s editors required each text to be designed separately, so that its form was in harmony with its content instead of submitted to its function. After an analysis of the main principles of New Typography as put forward in Tschichold’s handbook, I will turn to Arts et métiers graphiques and the magazine’s view on graphic design, so as to explore the reasons why Tschichold’s seemingly universal and neutral model for functionalist typography proved dysfunctional when transposed to this French context.
In the late 1920s, Tschichold observed, “Modern man has to absorb everyday a mass of printed matter which, whether he wants it or not, is delivered through his letter-box or confronts him everywhere out of doors.”3 This mass of printed matter confronting modern citizens was the result of numerous technological innovations in the printing industry at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. According to Tschichold, these innovations caused confusion among those who could not keep pace—including printers and designers—and a proliferation of what he perceived as poorly designed printed matter: designers did not make use of what was new, but rather imitated and combined various older styles instead (22-23). This problematic situation prompted Tschichold and other Central European avant-garde artists and typographers to call for a modern (or modernist), rational, standardized, and functional form of typography that was fully suited to this new era. In 1928, Tschichold published a key work in this regard: Die neue Typographie (The New Typography). The text itself did not appear out of nowhere. It stood “at the point when the New Typography movement had just taken off, after quite a lengthy journey along the runways.”4 New Typography was indeed a current or a movement that was based on the work and the reflections of numerous European designers (to which Tschichold also refers in his book), and rendered explicit by Tschichold.5 Five years earlier, László Moholy-Nagy6 and El Lissitzky7 had already elaborated on some of the central principles of New Typography. Moholy-Nagy’s article appeared in the catalog that he had designed for the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar—an event which is typically cited as having prompted Tschichold to reconsider his conception of design.8 Tschichold himself started publishing on New Typography in 1925, with a short, manifesto-like article in Kulturschau (Culture Survey),9 and a special issue of the magazine Typographische Mitteilungen (Typographical Announcements) entitled elementare typographie.10 A prolific author, he would continue to publish on typographic matters for the rest of his life.
The New Typography was subtitled “A Handbook for Modern Design” and published by the Publisher for the Educational Alliance of German Printers (Verlag des Bildungsverbandes der Deutschen Buchdrucker), denoting the book’s primary audience. Less of a manifesto than a handbook, with this volume Tschichold sought to provide a more complete and systematic account of New Typography than earlier writings by Moholy-Nagy and Lissitzky. Toward that objective, the book consisted of two parts. The first was entitled “The Growth and Nature of the New Typography” and provided historical and theoretical background information. In this section, the author also elaborated on the central principles of New Typography, some of which are still prevalent today in graphic design. The second part discussed “Principal typographic categories,” comprising letterheads, business cards, magazines, books, and advertising posters, with concrete examples and guidelines. Finally, the book itself constituted an example of what modern design should or could look like, being in DIN (Deutsche Industrie Normen) A5 format, set in a sans-serif typeface, and with a functional layout eschewing unnecessary ornamentation.
In the first part of the book, Tschichold linked the rise of New Typography to the development of avant-garde art, particularly Cubism, Futurism, Suprematism, and Constructivism. This art, he wrote, was suited to the age of “engineers and … technicians, industrial architecture and machines,” since it drew on “the true and mathematical logic of … construction” and was “subject to laws from elementary principles” (30, 36). Additionally, it strove for the “utmost clarity and purity,” and had “developed out of the collective spirit of the time” (45, 47). These were all qualities that, according to Tschichold, typography had to acquire as well. Like the art of the avant-garde, it had to be fully in tune with the era of machine-driven mass production and mass communication, the age of the engineer—whom Tschichold lauded in particular (11). Typography had to be clear, rational, standardized and functional. Similar statements figured in Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture (Towards an architecture, 1923), in which the French architect also celebrated the engineer and machines, as well as mass-produced consumer goods such as typewriters, telephones, and razors.11 In fact, Tschichold referred to Le Corbusier’s standardized architecture in his book, so New Typographers were certainly aware of (and perhaps also inspired by) Le Corbusier’s ideas.
To be in accordance with the modern age, the form of the text had to develop from its function instead of being predetermined by the designer: “Both nature and technology teach us that ‘form’ is not independent, but grows out of function (purpose), out of the materials used (organic or technical), and out of how they are used” (65). Tschichold believed that it was the Italian Futurist Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, a “non-technician”, who first provided “the curtain-raiser for the change-over from ornamental to functional typography” with his Les mots en liberté futuristes (Futurist words in freedom, 1919) (53). His principles were then adopted by other avant-garde artists that would lay the foundations of New Typography, in which form followed function. For Tschichold, this function was communication. To communicate efficiently, a text had to be as clear as possible, certainly in a time when a vast multitude of printed matter was only quickly glanced over. He denounced everything that could stand in the way of the text’s clarity, particularly traditional symmetrical page composition based on a central axis, which caused logical units to be cut up arbitrarily for the sake of an external, predetermined form. Instead of symmetry, Tschichold preferred asymmetry, which he believed to be more logical and optically effective, and, as such, more functional. Furthermore, all forms of ornamentation were to be omitted from the text, as they diverted the attention from typography’s main function—communication—and resulted from “an attitude of childish naïveté” and “a primitive instinct to decorate” (69). The source of this strong language was the functionalist architect Adolf Loos,12 whom Tschichold explicitly mentioned and cited as a precursor (ibid). Loos fiercely opposed an excessively decorated version of Jugendstil, and this opposition was taken up by Tschichold, who also pointed at the degeneration of that style. Instead of laying the text out in a symmetrical and ornamental way, the designer needed to organize it logically. To do so, Tschichold allotted him a variety of typographic means: contrasts in type size and weight, the position of the text on the page, the white background as an active element in design, and color (red, but also yellow and blue, as long as they were used functionally).
As for the typefaces to be used, Tschichold favored sans-serifs, because they met his demands for “clarity and purity” and lacked ornamentation. For him, sans-serifs had to be created anonymously by a collective, preferably including an engineer, unlike the overly artistic and ornamental typefaces of the previous decades often created by or attributed to an individual artist. The ideal sans-serif did not yet exist according to him, but Paul Renner’s Futura and some “jobbing” sans-serifs showed that typography was heading in the right direction; Tschichold stated that the sans-serif was the basis for its further development. While he admitted that serif typefaces could also produce good typography, sans-serifs were always better in his view. Moreover, he believed that sans-serifs were transnational and thus had to replace typefaces that were bound to a single culture, such as gothic typefaces (which were still widely used in Germany at that time) and Chinese, Russian, and Greek characters. Additionally, Tschichold favored the exclusive use of lowercase letters—in German, nouns and verbs start with capitals. Not only did he find them easier to read, he thought it was
of great advantage to the national economy: it would entail savings and simplification in many areas; and would also result in great savings of spiritual and intellectual energy at present wasted: we can mention here the teaching of writing and orthography, a great simplification in typewriters and typing technique, a relief for memory, type design, type-cutting, type-casting, and all composition methods—and so on. (80)
To further simplify German orthography, he advocated a phonemic spelling, in which one sign corresponded to one sound. Yet he did not yet implement these innovations in his book, perhaps to avoid shocking his audience with a spelling that was too progressive.
In addition to sans-serif typefaces, Tschichold required photography to become part of typographic design as “an essential typographic tool of the present” (92). At that time, illustrating a text by means of woodcuts was still common practice, and (literary) authors preferred handmade, artistic illustrations to machine-made (and, as such, non-artistic) images.13 Tschichold, however, preferred photography over woodcuts, which he thought were obsolete. For him, photography could provide a true, clear, and precise reproduction of an object through a fast and simple mechanical process that was incorruptible, objective and impersonal. This view of photography appears to be an elaboration of the one presented in Moholy-Nagy’s “Typofoto” essay in Painting, Photography, Film (1925), in which photography was seen as “a precise form of representation that in its objectivity does not allow for individual interpretation.”14 Although Tschichold did not explicitly refer to this movement, for Albert Renger-Patzsch and the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) a photograph was also a realistic document.15 Because of its objectivity, Tschichold considered photography an ideal companion for sans-serif type, and the two had to work together as “typo-photo” (92). While the term was first coined by Moholy-Nagy in the essay mentioned above (who, like Tschichold, considered a photograph useful typographic material), Tschichold further elaborated on the material aspects of the notion. For Tschichold, the photographic halftone block, made of “many little raised dots,” was materially similar to typeface (88), and typo-photo was a synthesis of the apparent three dimensions of the photographic image and the flat text, as well as the black of the letters and the grayscale of the photograph. He believed that, unlike handwriting and drawings by individuals, this combination of printed letters and pictures would appear to be the result of anonymous and collective work. He envisioned that the photograph would become the equal of type in the production of fine books and elsewhere; photography was to his age what the woodcut was to the Middle Ages.
Finally, The New Typography was a plea for (and a celebration of) standardization, which for Tschichold was an economic necessity and a solution in matters of typography. He particularly referred to the format of printed matter and advocated the use of DIN formats, which to him had a number of advantages for everyone involved in the production and consumption of printed matter: paper manufacturers, designers, and printers could work using a limited number of paper sizes that all had the same proportions, and people acquiring printed matter could easily organize it. Tschichold did not believe that standardization would lead to a dull sameness. Rather, it allowed true artists to be more creative than ever: “The artistic possibilities of standard formats, which give good page proportions, are unlimited. […] It is usually a sign of incompetence when a non-standard format is insisted on ‘for artistic reasons’” (151). This plea for standardization returned in many of the “principal typographic categories” constituting the second part of the book, which, as a practical guide for the designer, demonstrated how the principles of New Typography could and should be put to use.
In the same period, France found itself at the margins of the endeavors of New Typography. Following World War I, “Germanophobia and visceral nationalism” were rampant in France, also in the world of typography, with important typographers such as Francis Thibaudeau, Marius Audin, Maximilien Vox (pseudonym of Samuel Monod, who was also a poet and a critic), and Charles Peignot promoting a French style, in response to foreign experiments which they probably found too disconcerting.16 This resulted in “chronic isolationism” and “minimal exchange across the French-German border.”17 According to Michel Wlassikoff, French typography was in “an alarming state of stagnation” in the mid-1920s: innovations in typeface design and page layout were lacking, as typographers remained true to nineteenth-century design principles and techniques, unlike their German counterparts.18 For him, the most significant progress was made in advertising poster design: artists such as Cassandre, Jean Carlu, Charles Loupot, and Paul Colin, also known as “les quatre C,” became famous for their hand-drawn art deco posters. Roxane Jubert, however, indicates that their work, in which photography figured only rarely, was still far removed from the “revolutionary orientations” of New Typography’s typo-photo, and rather “reinvented the design tradition.”19 As for book design, poet and typographer Guy Lévis Mano carefully designed and published his own and other authors’ books. Innovative French typography, then, remained a matter of a limited number of individual designers, who would sometimes form a group and would write and teach only a little on their design. The numerous designers involved in New Typography, on the other hand, were more of a collective—organizing exhibitions, teaching in the Bauhaus and elsewhere, and publishing together.20
This type of nationalist resistance is typical for French culture in the interwar period more generally. Indeed, the country was caught between the perceived excesses of the international avant-gardes and the desire to return to (or preserve) its own, solid tradition, in a moment that is frequently termed retour à l’ordre.21 While some innovations from abroad were cautiously welcomed, France also pitted its own art against them, anxious to preserve the national tradition.22 One could call this in-between position a “tempered,” “moderate,” or “prudent” modernism, a term employed by Dominique Baqué to characterize the way French interwar photography (and certain art periodicals writing on photography) wanted to be modern, but denounced the “excesses” and “eccentricities” of innovative photographers (many of them foreigners that were active in France, such as Germaine Krull or Brassaï), and increasingly asserted its French nature.23 Baqué’s term aptly describes the larger field of cultural production and reception in France, as for instance painting,24 as well as literature25 (with Jean Cocteau’s 1926 Le rappel à l’ordre as an important example) attested to a similar project.
Arts et métiers graphiques’ stance towards avant-garde innovations in graphic design is in line with the spirit of the retour à l’ordre and Baqué’s tempered modernism. Published by Charles Peignot, head of the Deberny et Peignot type foundry, this graphic arts magazine tried to address all aspects of graphic design and the art of the book through articles written by prominent art critics, designers, book historians and literary authors. These texts were presented in an ornate way: on fine paper with an intricate layout, multiple typefaces, numerous illustrations, and with offsets serving as samples of bibliophile books and innovations in printing—a true showcase of advanced typographic techniques. All of this did not only please the magazine’s readership consisting of bibliophiles, printers, designers, and publishers; the combination of pedagogical articles and high material quality was also employed to reform the stagnant French graphic design industry.26 In this project, the art of the avant-garde served as a source of innovation,27 just like in Tschichold’s book. According to Christopher Burke, AMG “applied a tasteful version of modernist style, but remained eclectic and pluralist in its content.”28 Aiming to connect art and technique, the editors resolutely turned towards the future, towards new techniques and the aesthetics of the avant-garde, all the while feeling nostalgic for the great printers of the Renaissance, such as Aldus Manutius, the Estienne family, Christophe Plantin, Simon de Colines, and Geoffroy Tory, many of whom were discussed in the magazine.29 This nostalgia also extended to classic French type designers and publishers like Claude Garamont (sixteenth century) or the Didot family (seventeenth up to nineteenth century). The editors, then, toned down the more extreme aspects of avant-garde graphic design and preserved the elements that were acceptable to a wide audience, so as to connect these with the respectable national typographic tradition they sought to preserve. In doing so, they aimed to create a modern French typography that was in keeping with the ideals of the retour à l’ordre.
The treatment of New Typography is illustrative of this project. Far from ignoring or violently opposing it, the magazine met this “bold German graphic design”30 (in the words of Vox, who might have been contrasting its boldness or audacity to the “order”31 of French typography) with a mix of praise and reserve. It was certainly interested in New Typography as a possible source of innovation: AMG contained a number of reflections on the theories and writings of New Typographers, as well as discussions and reproductions of their work. The magazine even published a French translation of an article by Tschichold, “Qu’est-ce que la Nouvelle Typographie et que veut-elle?” (“What is the New Typography and what does it want?”), shortly after it had appeared in German. While some elements from New Typography were adopted, the designers and critics writing for AMG chose to stick to their own views on the text and on graphic design. Germanophobia and nationalism are only partial explanations for this mixed reception. Although Peignot’s father and uncles had been killed on the battlefield in the Great War, he visited the Bauhaus in the 1930s32 and had good contacts with Germany, particularly with Hermann Karl Frenzel, chief editor of the advertising design periodical Gebrauchsgraphik—although this magazine was more eclectic than the publications of New Typography.33 Gebrauchsgraphik was frequently mentioned in AMG and Frenzel occasionally contributed to Peignot’s periodical. More generally, AMG always had an international scope: it discussed the work of foreign artists, was sold to readers abroad, and sometimes contained English summaries or translations of the articles. The main reason for the half-hearted reception of New Typography in the magazine, then, is probably the fact that Tschichold, as the spokesman of New Typography, and the editors of AMG had rather different conceptions of printed matter, which proved difficult to reconcile; Tschichold’s functionalist typography was dysfunctional for this French graphic arts magazine. What, then, was AMG’s view on graphic design?
For Tschichold, in an age where thousands of pages greeted the reader every day, a text had to communicate as clearly and as quickly as possible by means of a functional design, free of all ornamentation. The form of the text was subordinated to and rooted in its function. Throughout his manual, Tschichold was less concerned with books than with other printed matter. Many members of the editorial staff of AMG, on the other hand, were bibliophiles—as were its readers—which implied that the magazine’s “critical language was predominantly based in aesthetic judgement.”34 It should be noted that while Tschichold condemned bibliophiles as snobs, many editors in fact advocated a less elitist form of bibliophilism, standing up against snobbism and advocating a true love of beautiful books instead of speculation in expensive and overly luxurious editions. Indeed, the editors often also praised modest and democratic editions of literary classics. For these bibliophile editors, the most valuable books were those in which the contents as well as the material and visual dimensions (the typeface used, the layout, the format of the page, the illustrations, the kind of paper used, the bindings, etc.) were of the highest quality and formed a harmonious whole.35 Nonetheless, reviews of bibliophile editions exclusively focused on their visual and material dimensions. As Paul Valéry stated in an essay that programmatically opened the first issue of AMG, “a page is an image.”36 This attitude was typical of what Tschichold called the “Old Typography,” which was in vigor when
readers . . . had plenty of time to read line by line in a leisurely manner. For them, function could not yet play any significant role. For this reason the old typography concerned itself less with function than with what was called “beauty” or “art.” Problems of formal aesthetics (choice of type, mixture of typefaces and ornament) dominated considerations of form. (64)
This preoccupation with beautiful books did not mean that the editors did not reflect on other “principal typographic categories,” on the text as a communicative device, or on how printed matter could function most effectively. For instance, starting with AMG 4, every issue contained a feature on advertising entitled “Actualité graphique.” However, rather than laying down rules for effective advertising (like Tschichold), the editors included reproductions of posters and leaflets they deemed worthwhile and let the images speak for themselves, presenting them as a state of the art of French design and, implicitly, as a collection of examples to follow.37 Vox, in turn, observed that the essence of graphic design was to publish: a designer was not to work from an ivory tower or to underestimate his audience38—a statement that is in keeping with the editors’ advocating a more democratic form of bibliophilism. As a designer, he provided a typographic standard for a railroad company’s publications, a project due for praise from the editors of AMG.39 In the first issues of AMG, Vox published a four-part series on contemporary book design, “Le livre contemporain,” discussing page layout, covers, chapter beginnings and culs-de-lampe (typographic ornaments often placed at the end of a chapter). He also wrote about the design of magazine covers.40 Rather than looking for standards for creating contemporary books or magazines, as Tschichold did (217-228), Vox described and discussed tendencies in design, advocating variation and individual creative endeavors rather than collective, anonymous work and standardization. In a similar vein, in the founding manifesto of a bibliophile society established by the editors of AMG, they stated that they wanted to create different books for each author, so that the text’s design harmonically supported his writing, following and translating “the movement and the rhythm of the text.”41 In the end, this bibliophile point of view—advocating harmony between visual and material form and content, and different graphic solutions for each text— remained important and would also influence discussions of other forms of printed matter.
From such a bibliophile perspective, ornamentation and decorative elements in a text were not to be denounced a priori. A case in point is an article by author, magazine editor, and folklorist Roger Dévigne on a typographic ornament called trait de plume, resembling a hand-written calligraphic line. In this text, he expressed the hope that contemporary taste, with its predilection for purity and simplicity, would no longer reject these decorative elements. According to Dévigne, printers and bibliophiles were well aware that a text printed in pure typography (without any decorative elements) often seemed a little cold and demanded subtle ornamentation. These ornaments, however, had to be in tune with the times and adapted to modern taste: “more emphatic, more daring, more black.”42 Tschichold would deem such a project impossible or obsolete, but for Dévigne, typographer Alfred Latour had designed just the right traits de plume. He praised Latour’s design for avoiding baroque elements, its emphatic yet simple nature, and the fact that it was free of old-fashioned grace notes, all of which made it part of contemporary experiments in typographic style.43 A similar evaluation of Latour’s design and a similar attitude towards decoration can be found in an article by Audin on typographic vignettes. Together with Thibaudeau, Audin was one of early twentieth-century France’s leading theoreticians and historians of typography and the art of the book. He believed that for most bibliophiles, one of the most seducing techniques of the book was its decoration. By decoration he meant not merely illustration, but rather the ornaments in the text, which, for him, gave the book a “festive character” which was lacking when it was “composed of nothing but austere letters,” no matter how beautiful the latter were.44 Unsurprisingly, then, the articles in AMG would frequently contain typographical ornaments such as traits de plume and vignettes.
In a similar vein, many of the texts in AMG were themselves ornamental, turning the page or the text into an image—the form being predetermined and seemingly not following out of the function of the text. For the bibliophiles of AMG, however, these figurative layouts had their purpose. They either functioned as an illustration of the subject matter, adapted itself to or supported other illustrations, or were nothing more than a way of increasing the overall aesthetic value of the text. In all of these cases, the ornamental layout (together with the typographic ornaments discussed above) was a way of ensuring that both the form and the content of the text were of the highest quality and harmonious, as these were the necessary qualities of a worthwhile text for the editors. Every article, then, required its own page design, as opposed to Tschichold’s advocating standardized layouts for magazine articles. To Bertrand Guégan (a bibliophile and book historian who frequently contributed to AMG), such a standard was nothing but a “passe-partout formula” that gave readers “the illusion of modernism and art,”45 the implication being that AMG would instead demonstrate what the truly modern (and French) typography looked like.
The ornamental layouts were also a way of demonstrating that purely typographic means wereas legitimate a method of illuminating a text as drawings, engravings, paintings or photographs. Illustration was only necessary when it supported the text and was in harmony with the whole. (One might even consider this a Tschicholdian plea for functional illustration.) Many editors shared this reserve towards gratuitous illustrations, as they believed that the vogue for illustrated editions, which had started around 1870, had led to a crisis of speculation in bibliophilism. People collected overpriced illustrated editions, which according to the editors had a negative effect on typography, the “true aspect of the book.”46 Nevertheless, book illustration occupied a very central position in AMG: nearly every issue contained numerous reproductions of illustrated pages and articles on illustrators.
Photography was at least equally important to the creators of AMG, who showcased the technical capabilities of their printing offices through including photographs in the magazine. From 1930 onward, they published an annual special issue on photography. These albums included work by canonical photographers such as Man Ray, Brassaï, Edward Steichen, Maurice Tabard, Germaine Krull, and László Moholy-Nagy. Both in these albums and in the regular issues, photography was seen as an art form and the photographer as an artist, while its documentary function was virtually ignored.47 “It is not our aim to catalog the eminent services fulfilled by photography, but to release its contribution as an art, to dissociate the aesthetic factor from the purely utilitarian,”48 critic Waldemar George wrote in the first photography special. Similar observations on photography as an autonomous art form abounded, the editors heeding the call issued by Alfred Stieglitz and other photographers around the beginning of the twentieth century to see photography as an art in itself. The editors’ conception of photography stood in contrast with Tschichold’s, who saw it first and foremost as an exact and objective representation of reality.49 Photographer Gisèle Freund contradicted such observations on the documentary value of photography. If it was thought of as “the reproductive process that [was] most true to social life, and most impartial,” she considered this quality a mere appearance, “because one only photographs what he wants, how he wants it, and one interprets it as pleases him.”50
For most of the editors of AMG, photography was a legitimate means of illustrating books—certainly popular literature, but also more “highbrow” texts. There were a number of discussions of illustrated books and reflections on illustration by means of photography, but other illustration techniques, such as painting, drawing and engraving, still dominated. According to George, photographic illustration was not a new phenomenon, but until that point photography was mostly reserved for more popular publications:51 the illustrated press, with VU (1928-40) as a noteworthy example,52 as well as pulp novels and ciné-romans, “a photo-textual hybrid offering a more or less faithful representation of an existing movie.”53 For George, then, truly modern photography was still in an embryonic state, but it provided a source of innovation for the art of the book: “As a corollary of the text, as an optical accompaniment of a verbal message, as a free transmutation of the ‘literary substance,’ photographic illustration can completely renew the art of the book.”54 In this regard, he might have been referring to the recently published edition of Banalité, written by Leon Paul Fargue and illustrated with photographs and photograms by Fabian Loris and Roger Parry, a photographer and illustrator working for Gallimard. This publishing house had recently started to publish a series of photographically illustrated books under the supervision of André Malraux. In a review of this new edition of Banalité (it was first published in 1928, also by Gallimard), Guégan expressed the hope that the results of this experiment would cause conservative publishers and bibliophiles to cast aside “their antique prejudices and to consider photography as the equal of other means of illustration.”55 George also reflected on the use of photography, which in principle could be reproduced infinitely, in limited, bibliophile editions, and imagined publishers destroying the photographic clichés to render the books more rare.56 For Dévigne, on the other hand, new techniques like photography, married to typography, were not to be reserved for bibliophile editions exclusively. As these techniques allowed for mass production, they had to renew popular publishing as well.57
According to the editors, photography also had its rightful place in advertising, another strand of graphic design which was strongly represented in AMG. In addition to the feature “Actualité graphique,” the editors published an annual special devoted to advertising art beginning in 1934, much like the Photographie specials. Both in “Actualité graphique” and in the advertising specials, advertisements with photographs figured prominently. Finally, in the early 1930s, Peignot, aware of the importance of photography in advertising, opened the Studio Deberny et Peignot, which specialized in photographic and typographic advertising (a French version of typo-photo) and quickly became a creative hub where photographers, journalists, and people involved in the advertising and fashion industries met.58
Regarding the practice of advertising photography, an editor with the initials R.S. (likely the photographer René Servant) stated:
The picture, of course, has to be good in the most simple sense of the word: legible, so a little blatant, made in such a way that it allows the principal subject to shine, imposing it to our view, to our intentions—presenting only its qualities; but it should not be just that—it should have graphic qualities.59
For this editor, photography in advertising had to portray the subject, but also had to testify to the photographer’s qualities and personality (as opposed to the objectivity of photography in Tschichold’s account); technical perfection was not enough.60 In a later issue, this editor further specified his point: “It is not enough to photograph a bunch of grapes or a pair of boots to give them a commercial value; this bunch of grapes or these boots have to be part of a well-composed whole.”61 According to him, using just photography would lead to dull and uniform advertisements: he therefore advocated the use of creative montage and composition in advertising. Tschichold, on the other hand, required photographic advertising to be free of any “artistic” aspects:
In advertising, at all events, there is no question of an “artistic representation” of an object. Of these “artistic” forms and oil-paintings that so often were completely unreadable, we have now had enough. The required object must be shown as clearly, as perfectly, and as truthfully as possible, and nothing can do this so well as photography. (158)
For Tschichold, photomontage and photograms were also allowed in advertising, despite the fact that these forms of photography verged on the artistic. If an advertisement had any aesthetic or artistic value, it seemed to be nothing but a surplus for him: “the commercial artist’s job is not to create a work of art but a good advertisement. It may, or may not, be both.”62
As the statements by R.S. already suggested, it was precisely this artistic dimension of advertising that was important to many editors of AMG: a successful advertisement had to be a good artistic design, whether a photograph, a montage, or a drawn poster. Other editors pointed out that the artistry of the advertising designer had to go hand in hand with craftsmanship and technical skill—something which they also required of other forms of graphic design, such as book illustration.63 As such, in discussions of artists, it was always their successful combination of art and métier that was lauded. Additionally, many editors saw advertising art as an art in its own right, an art that was as valuable as the fine arts. For Pierre Mac Orlan, advertising was the poetry of his age,64 while André Beucler also linked advertising and poetry,65 and Louis Cheronnet compared Cassandre to Valéry.66 Belgian sculptor Yvonne Serruys, finally, made no distinction between the artistic and the advertising photographs by Edward Steichen,67 and even suggested that the applied arts were superior to the fine arts.68
The editors’ views on typefaces were eclectic, in Burke’s sense. Whereas Tschichold preferred sans-serifs and only allowed some serifs as a last resort, almost all issues of AMG attested to a predilection for more classical or classical-looking serifs such as the Naudin or Cochin.69 Guégan expressed reserve towards Paul Renner’s Futura typeface, stating that the sans-serif’s unbridled sobriety needed some attenuation lest it should lead to coldness, and that it was difficult to read in a book. He foresaw the creation of a “Presenta” that was more in tune with “the tendencies of our age and the demands of our eye.”70 However, Guégan later also praised the good use of Futura in an advertising leaflet for the new Pigalle theater in Paris, which might, additionally, very well have been an instance of New Typography.71 In 1930, at the insistence of Vox—Peignot was more reluctant—the Deberny et Peignot foundry started marketing the Futura typeface itself, albeit under a different, much more French-sounding name: “Europe,” making it lose “the expression of its projection into the future—the reflection of utopias and Central European experimental fumbling that France kept at a distance.”72 From then on, Europe and other sans-serifs started to appear more frequently in AMG, mostly as titling faces, but also in some articles and special issues. Still, it almost always figured alongside the ever-present serifs.
Additionally, the editors did not fail to point out the historical sources of sans-serifs, denying their newness. This appears to have been a common strategy for the editors to cope with (avant-garde) innovations. One editor notes that Jean Pèlerin, author of De Artificiali Perspectiva (1505), the first book on perspective in drawing, cleared the way for “the boldest experiments by our modern artists,” the impressionists and the cubists.73 Although he does not consider Pèlerin a direct ancestor, he (strategically) places the endeavors of these moderns in a larger historical perspective. Art critic Maurice Raynal, a strong defender of cubism, considers the art of Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne or Gauguin a direct descendant and a continuation of principles introduced in Egyptian art; modern art is a product of “the eternal presence of plastic art.”74 Mac Orlan, finally, employs a similar strategy in an article on Grandville, a nineteenth-century caricaturist and illustrator whom he considers a precursor of Surrealism.75 As to the sans-serif, the editors stressed its origins in the nineteenth century and stated that “[t]he ‘Europe’ typeface, by Deberny et Peignot, is an adaptation of the primitive sans-serif typeface to modern demands of layout.”76 While Renner (according to Guégan) had stated that the Futura had no ancestors,77 Guégan was quick to observe that “the ‘Futura’ is a sans-serif—one is always someone’s spiritual son!”78 For Tschichold, meanwhile, this dimension was of minimal concern: he did briefly discuss the history of the sans-serif in the first part of his book, seeing it as “a logical development from Didot” (20). More generally, as he later wrote in an article on New Typography in AMG, the movement ignored history, being non-historical (but not antihistorical).79
Peignot and his editors would frequently use AMG as a catalog of the typefaces available at the Deberny et Peignot foundry. Among the typefaces released in the wake of the magazine, Cassandre’s Bifur and Peignot prove interesting cases in point. The stakes were high, as Peignot’s company aspired to come up with a modern typeface that would be characteristic of the twentieth century, just like German typographers did.80 While Tschichold and many of his German contemporaries preferred lowercase for its legibility, the Bifur and Peignot types were both based on uppercase letterforms, which were regarded by their creator as the original forms of the letter. Bifur was released in 1929, presented by Cassandre himself as a functionalist, utilitarian typeface, not a decorative one: “Bifur, an advertising face, has been designed to print one word, one single word, a poster word.”81 For Cassandre, it was a typographic solution to a precise problem posed by advertising, and it was this utilitarian nature that made it suitable for its age. The letters of the alphabet had been reduced to their bare essentials, stripped of what he saw as historical and decorative deformations by sculptors, scribes, and printers. Tschichold, in fact, reserved the highest praise for this functional typeface.82
The Peignot typeface, which appeared in 1937, was not seen as just a new typeface, but hailed by its creators as the next logical step in the evolution of the form of the letter—an evolution which they had studied carefully.83 What Cassandre and Peignot perceived as a tendency towards simplification and purification in art caused them to realize that only two letterforms existed: the epigraphic (uppercase) and the cursive, handwritten form (lowercase). For them, it was the epigraphic conception of the letter that was most suitable for printing; in fact, the cursive form (such as the lowercase letters championed by New Typography) was seen as nothing but a deformation of the epigraphic letter. As such, they required printing to return to what they considered the classical and noble uppercase letterforms, starting with the Peignot typeface. A hybrid of uppercase and lowercase letterforms, this typeface aimed to make some uppercase forms more legible,84 but it also required readers to make the effort to become accustomed to these new letterforms—something that, according to Peignot and Cassandre, had occurred before in the history of typography.
Finally, AMG also published an essay by Tschichold himself. “Qu’est-ce que la Nouvelle Typographie et que veut-elle ?”85 was a French translation of “Was ist und was will die neue Typographie?,” a text that was also translated into English, Danish, Hungarian, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian, and published in various magazines.86 The fact that it appeared in AMG shortly after its publication in German attests to the editors’ interest in New Typography and Tschichold. The essay, a brief statement of what New Typography was, served as the introduction to Eine Stunde Druckgestaltung (One hour of type design, 1930), a concise designer handbook with numerous examples. Importantly, for Burke, this introductory text was “a significant revision, or at least a refinement, of some points in Die neue Typographie, softening the narrow dogma of that book.”87 Jubert, in turn, observes that Tschichold, even from the outset, had a certain degree of tolerance and a tendency to evolve: already in elementare typographie of 1925, he did not present his conception of typography as absolute or definitive.88
In line with this lenience, then, the 1930 text toned down, altered, and clarified some of the central points of The New Typography. While function still played a primary role in typography, Tschichold admitted that the aesthetic aspect also mattered in questions of form.89 At the same time, he acknowledged the merits of the work by individual designers, in addition to those of the collective, in establishing New Typography. He now allowed the designer to use all kinds of typefaces—historical as well as non-historical—, all sorts of subdivisions of surfaces, and all possible positions of lines, as long as everything resulted in a functional design. Sans-serifs were still the most suitable typefaces for modern design, but the use of other types, such as the previously disdained classical typefaces, was now also allowed, as they had their own uses and functions. Symmetrical page layout and other exactly measured forms did not have to be completely eliminated, as they were often more efficient when used in print than “fortuitous” relations between different constituents of the text.90 If AMG did indeed steer clear of the more radical aesthetics coming from abroad, it is no surprise to see that the editors only published a full article on New Typography after its principles had been toned down by its theoretical spokesman himself and when they proved to be more in tune with the views on graphic design held by many editors of AMG. While still functionalist, Tschichold’s model now accorded more freedom to the individual designer and provided room for a graphic solution for each individual text. Additionally, the tone of the article foreshadowed Tschichold’s turn towards a more classical typography later in his career, for instance in his work as a designer for Penguin Books.
In the interwar period, French culture, wary of the experiments of the international avant-gardes, increasingly sought recourse to its national tradition, in a move that is frequently termed retour à l’ordre. As such, New Typography, which promised to be a neutral and universal from of graphic design, was met with resistance by many French designers precisely because it was German—a great number of them indeed fostered strong nationalist and anti-German feelings after World War I. In Arts et métiers graphiques too, New Typography was only half-heartedly received. Seeking to constitute a modern French typography, the editors of the magazine (cautiously) looked across the borders for innovations, but always tried to uphold their own tradition: a project typical of the tempered modernism of the retour à l’ordre. The editors acknowledged New Typography as a source of innovation and adopted some of its principles, but only those that they could easily reconcile with their own conception of printed matter. Jan Tschichold, who became an important theoretician of New Typography with his handbook Die neue Typographie, and the editors of AMG, after all, had a fundamentally different view on the text—and this factor is at least as important as nationalist sentiments. For Tschichold, a text had to communicate. To do so, it had to be designed anonymously by a collective, set in a neutral and clear typeface, laid out in a functional (i.e. asymmetrical) way and eschew ornamentation. Above all else, the editors of AMG loved beautiful books, in which both the content and the material aspects had a highly aesthetic value and were in harmony. This bibliophile or aestheticist point of view influenced discussions of other forms of printed matter: texts, posters and leaflets had to be functional, but also had to attest to the artistry and the craftsmanship of the designer. As Tschichold’s functionalist model left little to no room for these artistic aspects, it proved too strict for the editors of AMG, and therefore dysfunctional: they exposed it as a passe-partout formula that did not allow for a graphic solution for each particular text or book, nor for form and content to be in harmony.
Kristof Van Gansen obtained his MA in Western Literature at KU Leuven, where he is currently preparing a PhD dissertation on the French graphic arts periodical ‘Arts et métiers graphiques’, its reception of avant-garde aesthetics and its impact on literature. He was also curator of an exhibition on the magazine. Other than that, he is strongly interested in literature and its interactions with other media.