What is canon?

James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,947
edited September 2012 in Education
What exactly is canon in the context of design history? Is it the bits of history known by most designers and teachers—Morris, the Bauhaus, Swiss Design, etc.? Or is canon what has been written in Philip Meggs’ popular textbook?


  • I would say any movement, designer, teacher or piece of work generally acknowledged in at least two published works. Which defers the answer to a much larger set of data, so that is kind of useless.

    If you compare even individual schools — and I mean current institutes, academies, as opposed to movements — that teach today, you will find a vast difference in what they consider canon. Cranbrook teaches a wholly different idea of what the canon is than MICA, or RISD, or the Rietveld, or KABK, or the Hfg Karlsruhe, they all have a differing view, occasionally radically different. So the answer might have to lie, for simplicity’s sake, in a narrow and vague answer.
  • I don't follow the question. Doesn't Meggs write about Morris, the Bauhaus, Swiss Design, etc.?
  • Doesn't Meggs write about Morris, the Bauhaus, Swiss Design, etc.?
    Yes, but he also goes into a great deal more. What I’m trying to figure out is if people think of graphic design history cannon as one of the following:
    • the basics of twentieth century graphic design, the mindset being that graphic design is the field of post-industrial revolution commercial art.
    • The overall collection of subjects covered in the most popular textbooks.
    • Something even bigger.

    But I think Rob is probably correct, and that the definition is rather varied.
  • So sorry, I didn’t mean to then kill the topic altogether. What I meant to say was, if we want to find a definition, I think it will not be found in any specific publication. We will have to create our own amalgam. Like all the others do.

    So if you want to refine Meggs, that might be a good start. The movements, the great examples, the pivot points, the names, the political/emotional/cultural/occasionally trivial backgrounds. Then you’re working towards a book deal.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,059
    Assuming that by design history you mean graphic design history:

    Meggs’ book was the first history of graphic design, so the field is quite young.
    He gave prominence to 20th century modernism.
    If you go into a design bookstore, most of the history books concern the modernist narrative.
    So I would say that’s the canon.
    I don’t imagine that what is taught today, anywhere, strays too far from that.

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