Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

What's it - someone created computer icons with Dieselpunk flavor?

No, the pictures are 80 years old. They are very much alike modern pictograms, the ones we see everywhere. Office buildings and shopping malls, schools and stadiums, bus terminals and airports are full of these pictures, and there are millions of them on the Web.

Just recently I discovered the genesis of the pictogram and learned about the main proponent of the genre - Gerd Arntz (1900 - 1988), a German artist. Here's his short biography from the much-recommended gerdarntz.org:

Already as a young man, born in a family of traders and manufacturers, Gerd Arntz was a socially inspired and politically committed artist. In Düsseldorf, where he lived since his nineteenth, he joined a movement which wanted to turn Germany into a ‘Soviet republic’, a radically socialist state form based on direct popular democracy. As a revolutionary artist, Arntz was connected to the Cologne based ‘progressive artists group’ (Gruppe progressiver Künstler Köln) and depicted the life of workers and the class struggle in abstracted figures on woodcuts.

Gerd Arntz (at right) with Else Schuler, Tristan Rèmy, Franz Seiwert, photographed by August Sander. (From Weimarart)

Published in leftist magazines, his work was noticed by Otto Neurath, a social scientist and founder of the Museum of Society and Economy (Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum) in Vienna, Austria. Neurath had developed a method to communicate complex information on society, economy and politics in simple images.

For his ‘Vienna method of visual statistics’, he needed a designer who could make elementary signs, pictograms that could summarize a subject at a glance.

Arntz’s clear-cut style suited Neurath’s goals perfectly, and so he invited the young artists to come to Vienna in 1928, and work on further developing his method, later known as ISOTYPE, International System Of TYpographic Picture Education.

During his career, Arntz designed around 4000 different pictograms and abstracted illustrations for this system. At the same time, he was working with Neurath and his collaborators on designing exhibitions and publications for the Vienna museum. In this time, the 1930s, the city was under socialist government and an internationally acclaimed center of social housing and workers’ emancipation. Neurath’s visual statistics were adamantly meant as being an instrument of this emancipation, and Arntz’ own socialist background fitted this context seamlessly.

Produced under Arntz’s creative guidance, a collection of 100 visual statistics, ‘Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft’, was published in 1930. The success of this collection lead among other things to an invitation to come to the young Soviet Union and set up an institute for visual statistics, Isostat, in Moscow. Neurath and Arntz regularly traveled to Moscow in the 1930s, until in 1934 the socialist government of Vienna fell. After the Nazi take over, both emigrated with their families to the Netherlands, where they continued working on Isotype in The Hague. When the second world war broke out, Neurath fled to England. Arntz stayed in The Hague, where he worked for the Dutch Foundation of Statistics.
Arntz’ artistic legacy is administered by the Municipal Museum of The Hague.

Now to Arntz the artist. His graphic works are a clear verdict to the capitalist society, condemning it of countless crimes like exploitation, oppression, unequal opportunities and violence. Today, it's easy to condemn Arntz himself, but in early 1930s only a few could see that this unjust society is more humane and healthy than any of its alternatives. So let's see some more Capitalism in black & white:

Strikes. World Crisis. Third Reich instead of Soviet German Republic:

And finally the secret. Krafgenie writes in his Weimarart blog: "In an interview recorded in 1980, Arntz remarked that his intention was to produce "educational pictures", directing the viewer to the next tasks: "occupation of military caserns, factories, and such things." Who would have thought that our daily icons had a revolutionary past? "

Isn't it ironic: signs of future revolution failed to serve their original purpose, turning out as integral part of the consumer society. Maybe they are waiting for their hour?

Special thanks to gerdarntz.org

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Comment by lord_k on June 30, 2011 at 7:56am

To Argus:

there is a Gerd Arntz application for iPhone, based on original Isotype.

Comment by Argus Fairbrass on June 29, 2011 at 8:55pm
This site is always so informative. I for one had no idea about this, thankyou.

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