Sensing that traditional narrative illustration did not address
the needs of the times, post-World War I pictorial modernism
reinvented the communicative image to express the age of the
machine and the advanced visual ideas of the period.
In a similar quest for new imagery, the decades after World
War II saw the development of the conceptual image in graphic
design. Images conveyed not merely narrative information but
ideas and concepts. Mental content joined perceived content
as motif. The illustrator interpreting a writer's text yielded
to the graphic imagist making a statement.
Instead of scooping a rectangle of illusionistic space from
the printed page, this new breed of image makers was often
concerned with the total design of the space and the integration
of word and image. In the exploding information culture of
the second half of the twentieth century, the entire history
of visual arts was available to the graphic artist as a library
of potential forms and images.
In particular, inspiration was gained from the advances of
twentieth-century art movements: the spatial configurations
of cubism; the juxtapositions, dislocations, and scale changes
of surrealism; the pure color loosened from natural reference
by expressionism and fauvism; and the recycling of mass-media
images by pop art. Graphic artists had greater opportunity
for self-expression, created more personal images, and pioneered
individual styles and techniques. The traditional boundaries
between the fine arts and public visual communications became
The creation of conceptual images became a significant design
approach in Poland, the United States, Germany, and even Cuba.
It also cropped up around the world in the work of individuals
whose search for relevant and effective images in the post-World
War II era led them toward the conceptual image. In the most
original work of the Italian graphic designer Armando Testa
(1917-92), for example, metaphysical combinations were used
to convey elemental truths about the subject.
Testa was an abstract painter until after the war, when he
established a graphic design studio in his native Turin. His
1950s publicity campaigns for Pirelli tires had an international
impact on graphic design thinking. Testa called on the vocabulary
of surrealism by combining the image of a tire with immediately
In his posters and advertisements, the image is the primary
means of communication, and he reduces the verbal content
to a few words or just the product name. Testa effectively
used more subtle contradictions, such as images made of artificial
materials, as a means of injecting unexpected elements into
During the 1950s the golden age of American illustration was
drawing to a close. For over fifty years narrative illustration
had ruled American graphic design, but improvements in paper,
printing, and photography caused the illustrator's edge over
the photographer to decline rapidly. Traditionally, illustrators
had exaggerated value contrasts, intensified color, and made
edges and details sharper than life to create more convincing
images than photography.
But now, improvements in materials and processes enabled photography
to expand its range in lighting conditions and image fidelity.
The death of illustration was somberly predicted as photography
made rapid inroads into illustration's traditional market.
But as photography stole illustration's traditional function--the
creation of narrative and descriptive images a new approach
to illustration emerged. A primary wellspring of this more
conceptual approach to illustration began with a group of
young New York graphic artists.