Grids – Rosalind Krauss
Source: October, Vol. 9 (Summer, 1979), pp. 50-64
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/778321
“In the early part of this century there began to appear, first in France and then in Russia and in Holland, a structure that has remained emblematic of the modernist ambition within the visual arts ever since. Surfacing in pre-War cubist painting and subsequently becoming ever more stringent and manifest, the grid announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse. As such, the grid has done its job with striking efficiency. The barrier it has lowered between the arts of vision and those of language has been almost totally successful in walling the visual arts into a realm of exclusive visuality and defending them against the intrusion of speech. The arts, of course, have paid dearly for this success, because the fortress they constructed on the foundation of the grid has increasingly become a ghetto. Fewer and fewer voices from the general critical establishment have been raised in support, appreciation, or analysis of the contemporary plastic arts.
Yet it is safe to say that no form within the whole of modern aesthetic
production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so
impervious to change. It is not just the sheer number of careers that have been
devoted to the exploration of the grid that is impressive, but the fact that never
could exploration have chosen less fertile ground. As the experience of Mondrian
amply demonstrates, development is precisely what the grid resists. But no one
seems to have been deterred by that example, and modernist practice continues to
generate ever more instances of grids.”
Jasper Johns. Gray Numbers. 1958
Tron Lightbike Scene
A Brief History of Grids
By Lucienne Roberts
The Grid and Swiss Typography
The grid and Swiss typography are synonymous. Switzerland was neutral during the war. Not only did it attract many intellectual refugees, including designers like Jan Tschichold, but also most peacetime activities continued as normal, and supplies of such things as ink and paper weren’t rationed. Added to this, publications had to be set in its three official languages—French, German, and Italian—which called for a modular approach, using multiple column structures.
Several Swiss artist/designers, most notably Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse, explored systematic forms in their paintings concurrently with graphic design, while the graphic designers Emil Ruder and Josef Müller-Brockmann both wrote educative texts explaining what grids were and how to use them. They approached the subject with great rigor, arguing passionately that “integral design” required structures that would unite all the elements in both 2-D and 3-D design: type, pictures, diagrams, and space itself. Despite their enthusiasm for order and precision, they both understood the value of artistic intuition.
The grid and the design philosophy of which it is a part have been criticized for placing the narcissistic designer at the heart of the solution, and generating formulaic solutions that are mechanistic, unyielding, and rigid. But for Ruder, Müller-Brockmann, and many other designers since, the grid was the natural response to a design problem. It was also a metaphor for the human condition, and was found in all areas of human endeavor.
Josef Müller-Brockmann Animated Posters
Chuck Close explains why he follows a grid
ARTIST SERIES: David Carson
Grids: the structure of graphic design
André Jute – 1996
Mastering the use of grids is basic to all good graphic design. This superb guide includes an easy, step-by-step tutorial and extensive gallery of work by top designers.
“Kerry William Purcell, authorJosef M+-+ller-Brockmann (1914-96) was one of the most important andprolific voices of graphic design who created many of twentieth century’smost significant and memorable posters.He was a leading practitioner ..
In his posters, he expresses the avant-garde ideas of the Neue Typografie, or New Typography, which were strongly influenced by the Bauhaus. Jan Tschichold is the first book length examination of Tschichold’s posters.
THE CITY SHAPED
Urban patterns and meanings through history
• Geometry is a theory of spaces – an order of lines and angles, and one of the simplest ways of making
order in terms of city planning is to have horizontal and vertical co ordinates in orthogonal relationship to
• The grid is the most common of all patterns for planned cities in history.
• It is a means for equal distribution of land, and its rectilinear street patterns help in easy selling
or buying of real estate.
• It applies to country and town, fields and streets, and most basically, it divides an undifferentiated
stretch of land into regular measured plots
Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. An author of numerous books and articles on design, she is a public-minded critic, frequent lecturer, and AIGA Gold Medalist. Read More
Book review for I.D. Magazine, 2009. Hannah B. Higgins, The Grid Book (MIT Press, 2009) and
Carsten Nicolai, Grid Index (Gestalten, 2009).
What do a brick, map, tablet, ledger, screen, and box have in common? They are all examples of grids, modular systems made from uniform blocks of space, time, or material. For thousands of years, human beings have used grids to build structures and to institute laws and social systems. The Grid Book, a clever and cogent treatise by Hannah B. Higgins, looks at modular devices across history, showing that where each powerful new grid appears, it profoundly changes the community that wields it. Bricks are the basic units of permanent settlement. Maps are tools for imperial conquest. Urban street grids enable cities to expand and connect.
The grid, argues Higgins, is a dominant myth of the modern era; it is a “visualization of modernity’s faith in rational thought and industrial progress comprising everything from the urban landscape to the power grid, from modernist painting to the forms of modern physics.” Societies have used the grid to subdue the uncertainty of nature under the organizing net of culture. The grid is more than a mythic abstraction, however. It is deeply embedded in the material facts of human society. The grid is a made, crafted thing that dates back to our most ancient social transformations, rocking the very cradle of civilization.
In her chapter called “Brick,” Higgins takes us back to 9000 BCE, when human beings first learned how to grow crops, raise animals, and make shelters with chunks of mud. These early technologies allowed farming and building to replace hunting and gathering. A brick, like a loaf of bread, takes form in the hand. The laying of bricks is also a handicraft, and hence this elemental architectural unit has honored basic human scale across time. Assembled into staggered rows, bricks form sturdy walls. When they crumble and collapse, they become the underlayer of new buildings, providing cities with dense strata of ruin and rebirth. Higgins traces the spread of bricks and blocks across the ancient world as well as describing the mass production of these building materials in the nineteenth century.
Chapters on early writing systems, urban gridirons, ledger-based accounting, and perspectival representation each demonstrate Higgins’s ability to explain complex ideas in an engaging narrative style. Boldly spanning vast swaths of time and territory, The Grid Book has much in common with Jared Diamond’s bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel. Like Diamond, Higgins presents a big picture of cultural change in the West by examining the surprising consequences of tools and technologies.
Her chapter on “Type” may take too broad a view. Higgins barely acknowledges the grid as a methodology—and ideology—within the discourse of graphic design. Instead of looking closely at differences among shifting modes of page layout, she outlines the rise of print and its general impact on religion and society, drawing on familiar scholarship in this area. The chapter ends by looking at some experiments in modern poetry rather than confronting the changing role of grids in mass media and the internet. A section called “Box” links the rise of the modern skyscraper, with its steel skeletons and gridded curtain walls, to the spread of standardized shipping containers. Here, the image of the box sometimes feels like an inadequate container for its subject matter; some readers will wince at the comparison of Mies’s Seagram Building to “an upended shipping container rendered in glass.”
Designers interested in the visual possibilities of the grid will want to explore Carsten Nicolai’s stunning Grid Index, a book accompanied by a CD of ready-to-use vector art. Progressing from simple rectilinear lattices to patterns that self-assemble from irregular polygons, Nicolai celebrates the grid as an open-ended device for generating organic, dynamic forms as well as orderly and predictable ones. In his hands, the grid flourishes as a living surface wed to the rhythms of nature. Nicolai would find much to discuss with Hannah Higgins, who concludes her book with this statement: “Far from static or flattened entities, finished cultures create established and emergent symbols and systems of knowledge production and sensation—all of it organized on the lively grid.” Humans have used the grid to create and establish order, and they have also seen it unwind and unravel. The grid, a form with a rich and powerful history, will surely play a part in the doings and undoings of the future.