In an 1889 essay — The Decay of Lying — Oscar Wilde proposed the exact opposite of Aristotle’s Mimesis. In it, he said, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life”. He further proposes that life aims to find expression, which is something that art beautifully provides.
True or not, there’s definitely value in the idea that stunning art provides plenty of inspiration. That inspiration can come in many forms, and it can boost both real-life projects or more artistic ones.
It should come as no surprise then that modern web design sometimes takes inspiration directly from various art movements. Even though websites exist in a digital plane, we can liken them to Wilde’s idea of “life”. You see, designers inherently create websites that provide visitors with an experience — good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Designers do this through various forms of expression, including content, visuals and imagery, interactive elements and more.
In a way, when web developers borrow from popular art trends they are playing out Wilde’s anti-Mimesis claims. That’s certainly an interesting thing to think about.
But, it does make you wonder what movements have been tapped to improve modern web design? Who or what helped shaped the current industry?
You have to start with Art Deco, one design style that is appearing more and more often these days, and for good reason. The original movement started in France sometime during the first World War. It’s most commonly associated with the roaring ‘20s, the new Gatsby movie uses the style wonderfully.
V&A, the world’s leading museum of art and design, describes the movement accurately as one that “drew on tradition and yet simultaneously celebrated the mechanised, modern world.”
You can also see how it was influenced by Art Nouveau, while at the same time providing more decorative and ornate visual themes.
In modern design, parallax techniques are often used to accentuate Art Deco themes because it provides them incredible depth and layering, as well as a more engaging feel.
The Los Angeles Football Club uses an Art Deco inspired crest as their logo. The designers claim to have taken inspiration directly from downtown Los Angeles which, understandably, has a rich collection of Art Deco buildings and architecture.
Since we discussed this in the previous section, it makes sense for us to explore Art Nouveau next. It was popular during the tail end of the 19th century and carried on into the early 20th century, as well.
As the name suggests, it definitely honors a more artistic and fantastical style, albeit with natural forms and curves, particularly when it comes to framing. The style takes most of its inspiration from the surrounding environment, at least it did at the time. However, it’s layered with more ostentatious and colorful overtones that give it a very lived-in yet creative feel.
In web design, people use Art Nouveau to spruce up typographical and logo themes. It is also commonly used to frame varying web elements such as a photo gallery or content sections.
The Art Nouveau inspired font Futuracha is an example of this art movement influencing modern design:
If one had to choose a single art movement to define the 20th Century, Pop-Art would wear the crown. It borrows inspiration and style from a wide variety of mediums including comics, pop music, and early Hollywood movies.
You can recognize Pop-Art instantly just because of its robust use of color and quirky textures. The most obvious example of an artist who loved Pop-Art was, of course, Andy Warhol. His famed painting of Campbell’s Soup Cans is one of the most iconic representations of the movement. Another artist that worked with Pop-Art was Roy Lichtenstein.
Pop-Art inspired marketing campaigns and website backgrounds are all the rage these days. The contrasting colors and visual themes work well, especially on today’s high-resolution devices including mobile.
French artist Malika Favre creates art in a pop art reminiscent style, and her bold and minimalist website is pop art inspired to match:
Relatively new to the world of art movements, Minimalism has shown up at various points over the years coming back more recently in a bigger way. It’s no surprise the movement meshes well with modern web design either, as it calls for functional simplicity in all things. You’re essentially removing the excess noise, resulting in the most important elements being front and center.
Minimalist art can be rather eccentric and varied, but the underlying concept remains the same: austerity and usability are the driving themes.
In web design, this manifests in greater use of white or negative space, simple geometric shapes and elements, as well as monochromatic or simplistic visual themes. Think black and white, very little typography, and less-flashy imagery.
Another Pony is one example of a site with a minimalist style.
As an art technique, abstract design incorporates various shapes, colors and forms that are far removed from real life. Artists create abstract expressionism using their individual style, which come in many different forms, even across a related series.
It is also the art style comically associated with simple artistry — although it’s generally anything but simple — depicted as artists splashing paint on a canvas or making strange shapes and overlapping movements.
In web development, people use abstract design and expression as a unique photographic technique. It provides color, engaging yet beautiful imagery, and will always spruce up an otherwise bland design. When used alongside minimal techniques it can have an incredibly positive impact on the overall experience.
Although it’s a collection of design assets, Jenna Maxfield’s Shape Shifter pack provides a variety of abstract elements for modern design and serves as a great example.
Additional Art Movements That Inspire Modern Design
All in all, there are many other art movements that influence modern design in addition to what we list here. Some of those include Cubism, Surrealism, Conceptual Art or Conceptualism, and De Stijl.
Since digital and online experiences are another aspect of modern life, you’re essentially engaging with artistic expression every time you visit a website or open an app. Wilde may not have ever had the pleasure of digital experiences in his time, but his words are truer than ever.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.