When it comes to digital toys, I feel like a baby panda playing with its ball. Sadly, a grown person, with 50+ years of design, art direction and teaching experience, should not admit to being a drooling toddler (that’ll come soon enough) when using apps or software. Yet ChatGPT and DALL-E2 are so riveting and shiny, even an aging adult-child can have hours of rapt enjoyment (as long as he can afford the credits); it’s like being let loose in a carnival arcade.
AI has become a major pain point in the press and critical journals in recent months, spawning a backlash and, at least for me, another diversion of time and energy. In addition to a daily diet of panda and doxie reels and stories I swipe through, I’ve a habitual practice of inventing unknown and forgotten designers. Certainly, there are enough truly obscure designers worthy of rediscovery, but as I scour the old trade magazines to find them, I take the occasional detour into ChatGPT’s easy-peasy world of simulacrum. A few simple prompts and voila! Design History is made. Add the element of AI visual generators and the wannabe history buff can easily invent a believable world of never-weres.
Below are two that I prompted ChatGPT to conjure; the prompts for the first were basic: to create a “forgotten designer, Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Female.” All the detail on Sophia Lambert’s life (including her name) were added by the program. Likewise for the second, the prompts were “forgotten designer, Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Male” and—just to slightly confuse the timeline—I added “psychedelic.” It is interesting how in the latter case, psychedelic was fudged and fiddled into the narrative using alternative language. Keep in mind, I never actually uploaded to ChatGPT an example (real or imagined) of the work being discussed. The program never mentions nationality or ethnicity.
The aim of this exercise was simply to amuse myself but, even more important, it was to purge the temptation to ever take liberties with history and do this again.
Generated by DALL-E using prompts “Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, Art Deco type, letters and ornament.”
Introducing Sophia Lambert, a lesser-known designer from the 1930s who combined the streamlined, modernist aesthetic of the Bauhaus with the ornamental, flowing shapes of Art Nouveau, and the bold, graphic lines of Art Deco. Born in Paris in 1901, Lambert studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and later at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. She was fascinated by the functionalist approach of the Bauhaus and the way it blended art and technology to create practical, beautiful designs. However, she also appreciated the decorative, flowing shapes of Art Nouveau and the bold, graphic lines of Art Deco.
Lambert’s designs can be described as a fusion of these three design movements. Her works often featured geometric shapes, clean lines, and a rational design language. However, she also incorporated flowing, organic forms and intricate patterns reminiscent of Art Nouveau and the bold, graphic lines of Art Deco. Her use of vibrant colors and bold contrasts added an element of drama and excitement to her designs.
Despite her talent, Lambert’s work was largely overlooked during her lifetime. She struggled to gain recognition in the male-dominated world of design, and her innovative style was often deemed too unconventional for the mainstream. Lambert’s work was never exhibited in major galleries or museums, and she struggled to make a living as a freelance designer.
In the late 1930s, Lambert’s style began to evolve, as she incorporated elements of surrealism and the emerging sci-fi genre into her work. Her designs became more fantastical and experimental, incorporating unusual materials and futuristic shapes. Lambert’s designs reflected the newfound sense of possibility and optimism that was a hallmark of the era.
Unfortunately, Lambert’s career was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. She fled to the United States in 1940, where she struggled to make a living as a designer. Lambert eventually turned to teaching, becoming a professor of design at a small college in upstate New York. She passed away in 1969, largely forgotten by the design world.
Today, Lambert’s work is being rediscovered by design historians and enthusiasts who appreciate her unique blend of modernism, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. Her designs are now being exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, and her influence can be seen in the work of contemporary designers who continue to explore the intersection of art and technology. Sophia Lambert may have been overlooked during her lifetime, but her legacy lives on in her innovative and visionary designs, which continue to inspire and captivate designers and art lovers alike.
Generated by DALL-E using prompts “Bauhaus, Psychedelic, Art Nouveau letters.”
Introducing Rudolf Klein, an unknown designer from the 1930s who blended the rational design language of the Bauhaus with the whimsical, organic shapes of Art Nouveau and the bold, psychedelic colors of the 1960s. Born in Vienna in 1908, Klein studied at the Bauhaus in the late 1920s, where he became enamored with the school’s focus on functionality and the fusion of art and technology. However, he also found inspiration in the decorative, curvilinear forms of Art Nouveau and the freedom and spontaneity of psychedelic art and design.
Klein’s style can be described as a playful, psychedelic take on the rational design language of the Bauhaus. He created furniture, lighting, and decorative objects that combined simple, geometric shapes with intricate, swirling patterns and vivid colors. His work was characterized by a sense of playfulness and whimsy, as well as a commitment to functionality and practicality.
Despite his innovative approach, Klein’s work was largely ignored during his lifetime. He struggled to find work as a freelance designer, and his designs were often deemed too unconventional for mainstream tastes. Klein’s style was ahead of its time, and it was only in the 1960s that his work began to receive recognition as part of the psychedelic art and design movement.
Klein’s designs became more experimental in the 1960s, incorporating bright, fluorescent colors and unusual materials. He created furniture and lighting that looked like they were straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, with whimsical shapes and unexpected details. However, Klein remained committed to the principles of functionality and practicality, ensuring that his designs were both beautiful and useful.
Despite his growing success, Klein’s personal life was plagued by addiction and mental illness. He struggled with substance abuse and suffered from bipolar disorder, which made it difficult for him to maintain consistent work. Klein passed away in 1972, largely forgotten by the design world.
Today, Klein’s work is enjoying a renaissance, with collectors and enthusiasts rediscovering his playful, innovative designs. His furniture and lighting are now highly sought after, and his influence can be seen in the work of contemporary designers who continue to explore the intersection of art and functionality. Rudolf Klein may have been an unknown designer during his lifetime, but his legacy lives on in his unique and visionary designs, which continue to inspire and captivate designers and collectors alike.