graphic arts

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graphic arts

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Graphic Arts


a form of fine arts that includes drawings and printed works of art (for example, engravings and lithographs), which are based on the art of drawing but have their own representational means and expressive possibilities.

The term “graphic art” was originally applied only to writing and calligraphy. It acquired a new meaning at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in connection with the rapid development of printing and the widespread use of calligraphically clear, contrasting line drawing, which was extremely well suited to photomechanical reproduction in books and magazines. Graphic art then became defined as an art form based on lines or as the art of black and white. This concept was later expanded. In addition to the contour line, graphic art makes use of the stroke and the spot, which also contrast with the white (more rarely, colored or black) surface of the paper, the main material of graphic art. Tonal nuances can be created by combining these means. The use of color is not excluded.

The most general distinguishing characteristic of graphic art is the special relationship of the object being drawn to space, which is primarily represented by the paper background—“the air of the white sheet.” in the words of V. A. Favorskii. a Soviet master of graphic arts. The sense of space is not created only by the sections of the paper not covered by the design. Often (for example, in watercolor drawings), it is created by the background of the paper that is visible through the layer of color. Because of the flatness of the sheet of paper, the graphic image is. to some extent, flat. Graphic art is not as well equipped as painting to create the spatial illusions of the real world: nevertheless, it is able to vary the degree of space and flatness with great freedom and flexibility.

A graphic artist may produce works distinguished by careful volume and spatial construction, narrative interest, detailed study of nature, and exposure of the structure of the object. However, he may also limit himself to a cursory impression and a conventional delineation of the object—an allusion to it, which addresses the viewer’s imagination. In such works the unfinished, terse quality is one of the chief means of expression. Depth of imagery in graphic arts is often attained by economy and concentration of artistic means and use of graphic metaphors, suggesting a comparison between graphic art and poetry. Thus, in graphic art, in addition to finished compositions, sketches from nature and impressions of paintings, sculpture, and architecture have value (the drawings of Michelangelo and L. Bernini in Italy. Rembrandt in Holland, V. I. Bazhenov in Russia, and A. Rodin in France).

The capacity of the graphic arts for a harsh sharpening of images resulted in the widespread development of black and white satirical and grotesque works (the etchings of Goya in Spain, the lithographs of Daumier in France, and the drawings of G. Grosz in Germany and of Kukryniksy in the USSR). An active role is played in graphic arts by the texture of the materials used and the specific characteristics of graphic techniques and methods. A special place is occupied by nonrepresentational elements—purely decorative motifs, ornamental design, and the text, which represents the system of graphic signs.

The graphic arts have a very broad range of functions, types, genres, and artistic means. Taken together, they offer unlimited possibilities for the representation and figurative interpretation of the world and the expression of the feelings and thoughts of the artist. The viewers’ contacts with graphic art works also vary—from the mass impact of the poster to the intimate response to the sketch, illustration, or miniature, which require close scrutiny. Important properties of graphic art are that it can be used for a quick response to topical events, it is easily reproduced, and it can be used to reveal a concept consistently in a number of pictures (the series of engravings by the Englishman W. Hogarth, the Belgian F. Masereel, and the Soviet graphic artists I. I. Nivinskii, A. I. Kravehenko, and V. I. Kasian. lithographs by A. F. Pakhomov. and drawings by B. I. Prorokov, E. A. Kibrik, and D. A. Shamarinov). These qualities of graphic art were extensively used in black and white works devoted to political agitation and satire, whose stormy development coincides with the dates of great historical events (the fliers of the Peasant War of 1524–26 in Germany, the engravings of the Great French Revolution, the cheap popular prints of the Patriotic War of 1812, the posters of the Civil War and Great Patriotic War). In the 20th century the graphic arts developed as a democratic, socially resonant art form addressed to mass viewers. At the same time, there has been a tendency toward individualistic aestheticism and narrowly formal, technical experiments in graphic arts.

In terms of technique, the graphic arts are divided into drawing and prints. The most ancient and traditional form of graphic art is drawing, whose origins can be seen in prehistoric rock paintings and writing on ancient vases, in which lines and silhouettes form the basis of the design. Drawing has many of the same aims as painting, and the barriers between them are merely formal: watercolor, gouache, pastels, and tempera may be used to create works that have the quality and style of graphic works and paintings. Drawings are similar to paintings in their uniqueness: prints—engravings and lithographs—can be reproduced in many equally valuable copies. Engraving has been known since the sixth and seventh centuries in China and since the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe. Lithography developed only in the 19th century. Prior to the development of photomechanical methods of reproduction, printing was used to reproduce paintings and drawings.

Black and white works are classified as easel, book, and newspaper and magazine art. applied graphic art. and poster art. Easel graphic works became widespread chiefly after the Renaissance. For a long time this form of graphic art addressed itself to traditional genres of the fine arts—thematic compositions (engravings by A. Dürer in Germany, J. Callot in France, Rembrandt in Holland, and K. Kollwitz in Germany, lithographs by E. Delacroix and T. Steinlen in France, and drawings by I. E. Repin and V. A. Serov in Russia) and portraiture (drawings by F. Clouet and D. Ingres in France and O. A. Kiprenskii. engravings by N. I. Utkin in Russia, and lithographs by G. S. Vereiskii in the USSR). Graphic works were also devoted to the traditional genres of the landscape (engravings by the Japanese artist Hokusai and the Soviet artist A. P. Ostroumova-Lebedeva and drawings by P. V. Miturich and N. N. Kupreianov) and still life (drawings by M. A. Vrubel’ in Russia and H. Matisse in France and engravings by D. I. Mitrokhin in the USSR). Because of the ease with which they can be reproduced and purchased, as well as their decorative qualities, which stem from the materials used (wood, metal, or linoleum in engraving and stone in lithography), prints are widely used in modern interior decoration. Specific mass-produced types of graphic art are cheap popular prints and cartoons that appear in newspapers and magazines.

One of the principal fields in which the graphic arts are applied is book publishing. The history of drawing is in many ways connected with ancient and medieval manuscripts, and the development of engraving and lithography is associated with book printing. The script that appeared in ancient times was also related to the graphic arts, insofar as letters are also graphic symbols. In books the graphic arts include illustrations, which help interpret the literary work, the type design, and the overall structure and design of the book. (Those involved in the graphic arts in book publishing include W. Morris of England. V. A. Favorskii, E. E. Lansere, V. V.Lebedev.S. M. Pozharskii. and S. B. Telingater of the USSR, and W. Klemke of the German Democratic Republic.) A relatively new branch of the graphic arts is the poster, which developed in its modern form in the 19th century as a method of commercial and theatrical advertising (playbills by J. Cheret and A. Toulouse-Lautrec), and later as an instrument of political agitation (posters by D. S. Moor, V. V. Mayakovsky. and A. A. Deineka in the USSR and T. Trep-kowski in Poland). In addition to drawing, posters make use of photomontage, which is also used in books and magazines (the works of J. Heartfield in Germany and G. G. Klutsis in the USSR).

Applied graphic arts, including industrial arts (for example, works by L. M. Lisitskii and A. M. Rodchenko of the USSR), have a broad range of functions and introduce artistic principles into the designing of utilitarian objects, including postage stamps, bookplates, trademarks, and labels. The ties between the graphic arts and modern life and the possibilities inherent in the development of printing are creating the conditions for new kinds of graphic arts.


Klinger, M. Zhivopis’ i risunok. St. Petersburg, 1908. (Translated from German.)
Russkaia grafika. Moscow. 1949–52 (Series of monographs.)
Levitin, E. S. Sovremennaia grafika kapitalisticheskikh stran Evropy i Ameriki. Moscow. 1959. [Album.]
Favorskii, V. A. O grafike kak osnove knizhnogo iskusstva. In the collection Iskusstvo knigi, vol. 2. 1956–57. Moscow, 1961.
Radlov. N. E. “Sovremennaia Russkaia Grafika i Risunok.” In Izbr. soch. Moscow, 1964. [Article written in 1913.]
Sidorov. A. A. Grafika pervogo desiatiletiia. 1917–1927. Moscow, 1967.
Sidorov, A. A. Russkaia grafika nachala xx veka. Moscow, 1969.
50 let sovetskogo iskusslva: Grafika. Moscow, 1969. [Album.]
Vipper, B. R. Stat’i ob iskusstve. Moscow, 1970.
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Bock, E. Geschichte der graphischen Kunst von ihren Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Berlin. 1930.
Chegodaev, A. D. Russkaia Grafika. 1928–1940. Moscow. 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

graphic arts

[¦graf·ik ′ärts]
(graphic arts)
Those methods of applied arts used to form a visual end product that conveys information or is a decoration; methods include drawing, painting, photography, all types of printing, and bookmaking.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

graphic arts

The business of generating visual representations, which includes commercial art (illustrations) and page layout. The traditional arts such as painting and lithography also fall under graphic arts. See graphic.
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
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