Illustration: Heinrich Vogeler. Drachentoter, c1902.
It is always interesting to see how creative people are officially designated, particularly those who produced work in a number of disciplines. The German artist and designer Heinrich Vogeler is more often classed as a fine or illustrative artist, despite the fact that he also produced work in carpet, tapestry and embroidery design amongst others, as well as fine, illustrative and graphic art. It has always seemed puzzling as to why this should be so. It is not as if the individual artist or designer tried to hide the fact of their multi-disciplined creativity, though to be fair some later in their careers did try to play down some of their earlier, more diverse work. Perhaps to be fair there is not a readily available and distinctive name tag for those who work in a multiple of disciplines, or perhaps fine art is considered by many to be the apex of creativity. Whatever the reason it seems somewhat limiting to force a creative individual into a small segment of their output. Calling Vogeler an artist or illustrator can only ever be part of the makeup that was the man.
Illustration: Heinrich Vogeler. Hansel und Gretel, c1902.
The illustrative work produced by Vogeler during the first years of the twentieth century is a particularly interesting area, as these six examples show. All are book illustrations and all show a distinctive combination of illustration and decoration. While much of the illustrative work itself is fairly standard for the period and although interesting and stylised, it is perhaps the borders of each piece that intrigue and draw the eye.
Although some of the illustrations shown have borders that just about frame the composition, others dominate the illustration. The last illustration shown in this article 'Der Fischer und das Meermadchen' takes the decorative border to a point where the main illustrative composition is dwarfed by the decorative border. so much so that the composition floats on the main event, rather than the other way around. Seeing this particular illustration creatively it could perhaps be said that as the sea is the main compositional theme, it stands to reason that the smaller illustration should be afloat within a larger composition of stylised sea life, including mermaid. It could also be said that the fisherman floats within his small frame separated visually and physically from the ocean depths, connected only by his net and the mermaid. At any rate, it is an interesting phenomenon to see decoration take precedence over fine art illustration.
Illustration: Heinrich Vogeler. Melussinen Marchen, c1902.
Interestingly, there is a form of creative world-within-world scenario in these six illustrations by Vogeler. The borders of the illustrations can be seen as decorative additions to the compositions. However, the illustrations themselves, being book illustrations, could well be seen as decorative additions to the written story. Therefore, the illustrations are an addition to the book; the frames are an addition to the illustrations. Or, are they all one and the same, equally valid and meaningful to the whole. Is there really a difference between decoration and art and if not, why is it so often stressed that there is?
This is intriguing as in some ways it asks us to question what is art and what is decoration and whether there really is the vast gulf between the two as we are often led to believe. Decoration is often seen as little more than an addition to the main event. However, in some respects all observational creativity is decoration in some form or another, even fine art. It is sometimes hard to see a discipline such as fine art, one that has spent decades feeding the ideal of its own separateness, its own individuality, being seen as an integral part of a larger platform of disciplines that includes all of the visually creative forum, whether it be named decorative, applied or craft. In many respects if it is visual then it is decorative, but also individually creative. The inspirational and creative discipline of art, design and decoration worlds are not as far apart as we are often led to believe.
Illustration: Heinrich Vogeler. Traume, c1902.
The nineteenth century and into the twentieth saw a concerted effort by a whole range of artists, designers and critics who attempted to try and draw both fine and decorative art towards each other, forming one creative discipline. For a while at least, it seemed as if progress was being made with artists such as Gustav Klimt making it appear as if decoration and fine art could quite easily share the same space. Many artists, designers and craftspeople were multi-disciplined or at least worked in a range of subjects for which they were not usually associated, calling into question the idea of the sole-disciplined creative.
Unfortunately, the contemporary world in which we find ourselves, thrives on compartmentalising every conceivable element of humanity, and even though it may publicly laud the concept of the multi or pan-disciplined individual, we are very much removed from that concept in the creative world where individuals are often vilified for cross-border forays into disciplines outside of their educational background. In other words, an embroiderer must not work in glass, a woodworker must not work in weave, a ceramacist must not work in metal, a fine artist must not work in ceramics and so on.
Illustration: Heinrich Vogeler. Verkundigung, c1902.
To be fair, some creative people do work in a range of disciplines and the result is often intriguing and inspirational. However, there is often a reluctance, even hostility within and without disciplines as to the merits of cross-fertilisation. The saying 'Jack of all trades, master of none' is often mentioned as a reasoning behind single discipline careers. Personally I am a fan of Jack and always have been. I firmly believe that bringing in elements from a range of disciplines enhances a creative career, rather than diminishing it. Creativity should in some respects be an event in itself, a vocation, a life choice if you will. How that creative individual decides to channel their creativity should be theirs to choose. The discipline or disciplines should be part of a personal vocabulary, a set of tools in which to achieve creativity in its broadest sense.
Illustration: Heinrich Vogeler. Der Fischer und das Meermadchen, c1904.
This is one of the main reasons why this site continues to feature individuals who worked in multiple disciplines and why those individuals who are today designated as having been historically artists, architects, product designers and so on, will have their embroidery, carpet, tapestry, lace and wallpaper designs featured as an integral part of their career, rather than a forgotten interlude or side-project. This is why Heinrich Vogeler's tapestry output has already been featured on Design, Decoration, Craft - Heinrich Vogeler, Tapestry and the Art Community - as eventually will his carpet, embroidery and any other discipline he may have worked in. Without a full creative understanding of an individual, how can we understand the creativity of that individual?
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