Grabbing and Guiding Your Attention: Art Theories on Composition Applied to the Newspaper Front Page

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Grabbing and Guiding your Attention

Art theories on composition applied to the newspaper front page

Charlotte Boelens, s1054708 Master Thesis

Book and Digital Media Studies

Prof.dr. A.H. van der Weel Dr. H.F. Westgeest



Introduction p. 03

1. The Front Page is/as an Image p. 09

2. Modern Pictorial Art and its Composition p. 23

3. Figuring out the Front Page: A Case Study p. 36

Conclusion p. 50

Appendix p. 54

Images Sources p. 55



The newspaper is one of the most recognisable forms of the written word on paper in the twenty-first century. It doesn’t matter if the newspaper is read from left to right, right to left or even top to bottom; it is immediately recognised for what it is (see fig. II, III, and IV). The newspaper’s front page is its eyecatcher, its own advertisement and its most identifiable feature. A big, fancy title tells the potential reader which news organisation (s)he’s dealing with and another big, fat title (or two) proclaim the day’s headline(s); nowadays, usually accompanied by a photograph. A newspaper not only has to grab the attention of the reader for the newest headline, but also

traditionally has to compete with other newspapers at a sales location. Although the exact layout of a newspaper’s front page is not standardized – certainly not worldwide – the elements and ratio of the elements do seem to adhere to some form of

regularity, hence its recognisability.

Figure III: Front page of Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh.


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, not only did the demand for newspapers, but also the number of newspapers publishers grew drastically. This dramatically influenced the recognisability of newspapers and their front pages. At the same time, the art world was subject to some dramatic new movements, thoughts and theories which are now known as the start of modern art. One of the first modern art movements was Fauvism, which only existed as a movement 1905 – 1908. Despite its short history, it would later prove to be an influence on Cubism and Expressionism

amongst other movements and styles.1 Throughout the history of Western Europe, art

theories have always been chiefly concerned with composition and use of colour. The composition and colour in a painting have to grab and guide the gaze of the spectator. Western artists questioned the traditional thoughts on composition and colour; for, ‘Fauvism Movement Overview and Analysis’, (2018), <> (27 July, 2018).

Figure IV: Front page of American newspaper

The Washington Post.


example, Fauvism formulated its own ideas on the balance within the composition of

a two-dimensional pictorial space.2 An important distinction to note here is modern

versus contemporary: in this thesis ‘modern’ refers to the modernity discourse in art and culture in general, not contemporary or recent trends.

At first glance, newspapers and paintings are different disciplines. Yet both these expressions of human culture grew exponentially in numbers and diversity at the end of the nineteenth century; both are embedded in the entertainment

spectrum; and both depend on visual stimulus. A front page and a painting only have

a short moment to catch the interest of an observer or passer-by. When glancing at a page of text, any text, most people don’t realise that there are numerous visual cues at play which inform the observer of what they’re seeing – without even reading a single letter. When it comes to newspapers, this unintentional expectation of recognisability works even stronger since no single front page looks exactly the same. Even though the newspaper is a textual product, its designation depends more on its recognisable form than its content (see fig. V).

In Collage Culture (2013) David Banash already makes the connection

between newspapers and art, although from a different perspective. For him, newspapers are characterised by their serial nature; with the mechanical

reproduction of art since modernity, works of art suddenly adorned a great variety of printed pages (e.g. newspapers, books, and journals) which reminisced of this

seriality of newspapers. At the same time, newspapers were one of the reasons that reproductions of works of art were spread amongst a much greater audience – without the framing or interpretation of an art institution – which emphasized the

potential serial nature of art.3 On top of this, twentieth century artists such as Pablo

Picasso and Georges Braque used newspapers in their work to attest to its definition as modern. Adding fragments of newspaper in their art was not an act of

representation, but an actual insertion of the real world. The content of the

newspapers doesn’t matter for this, but key is the recognisability of the newspaper itself. Banash emphasizes a tension between newspaper and art in regards of

(possible) seriality, incorporation of the one in the other (reproductions of works of

art in the newspaper and fragments of newspaper as part of a work of art), and the

definition of modernity in cultural life., ‘Fauvism Movement Overview and Analysis’.


My hypothesis is that a modern newspaper front page visually functions just as any other image, before a reader gets the chance to explore the actual content.

Deriving from this, this image can be subjected to art-historical theories on composition in regards of grabbing and guiding the attention of the viewer. The modern newspaper developed during a time that images and imagery increasingly became an integrated part of life, which is in part due to the rise of photography. I suspect that the composition of the front page has not only had to be adapted to keep up with technological innovations, as well as social and reading demands, but that art theories on composition are just as applicable to the layout of the newspaper front page as they are useful and insightful for flat, pictorial art. Thus, my research question is how does a newspaper front page function as a free-standing image?

This research is divided into three components. First, I will explain why and in what way the front page of a newspaper can be perceived as an image. To better understand newspaper front pages, the historical development of newspapers will first be studied. The technological, societal, and cultural history of the newspaper by Anthony Smith and a visual breakdown of the features of a newspaper front page are central for this chapter. Next, I have made a collection of modern and contemporary general theories on composition in art and painting, both prescriptive and

descriptive. Chief amongst these theories are some artistic rules by Joshua Reynolds, and descriptive theories by contemporary American culture professor David Banash and art historian Thomas Puttfarken. By comparing these theories, a consensus will come forward on the key elements at work in a composition for both attracting and guiding attention through a two-dimensional artwork. This generalised theory will then be applied to the composition of the newspaper front page in the third chapter.

For this section, the former Dutch regional newspaper Nieuwsblad van het Noorden

(1888 – 2002) will serve as case study, with attention for the general layout, as well

as specific visual details.4 The struggles, competition and adoption of photography

within both these respective fields will make the connection between newspaper front pages and art even more apparent. Finally, by thorough comparison and reflection all these elements will come together in the concluding chapter.

In the present research, I will link newspapers and pictorial art from a

different perspective. This thesis is a combination of a study of relevant literature and, ‘Archieven en Collecties: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden ,1888 –2002’,


theories, a reflection, comparison and critique on these studied sources and visual research of the case study. The most relevant theories on pictorial composition are

those by Banash, Puttfarken in The Discovery of Pictorial Composition: Theories of

Visual Order in Painting 1400 – 1800 (2000) and psychologist Paul J. Locher, who

has published several articles in the field of empirical studies of art since 1999. Some of his research was done together with Pieter Jan Stappers and Kees Overbeeke. For the case study section of this thesis, the data has been collected via Delpher. All

digitized issues until 1994 of Nieuwsblad van het Noorden can be openly accessed via

Delpher. This website is developed and hosted by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (the Dutch national library, henceforth the ‘KB’). Delpher provides digitisations of full-text Dutch-language books, journals, radio bulletins, and – most importantly –

newspapers.5 This includes high quality scans and XML-files with OCR (Optical

Character Recognition) and ALTO (Analyzed Layout and Text Object, an XML Schema detailing technical metadata which describes the layout and content of digitized text resources).

In the recent two decades, several analyses have been made of the layout of the newspaper front page, mostly within journalism studies and psychology. Helen Caple has charted the tension between image and text on the front page in ‘Having it Both Ways? Images and Text Face Off in the Broadsheet Feature Story’ (2010).6 Sara

Leckner has also done research on eye tracking and reading behaviour, focusing more on visual cues and use of colour in ‘Presenting Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of Newspaper Media: An Eye-Tracking Perspective’ (2012). Pegie Stark Adam, Sara Quinn and Rick Edmonds zoomed in on the changing reading habits due

to digitization and how the gaze of the reader is guided in Eyetracking the News: A

Study of Print and Online Reading (2007). The research by Michele Weldon in

Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page (2008) delves deeper into the

cultural developments and changes in the layout and content of the front page of the newspaper.

Some restrictions which have been made to make this research feasible must be mentioned here as well. As mentioned, the newspaper that will serve as case study

is the Dutch regional paper Nieuwsblad van het Noorden (‘Newspaper of the North’,

5Delpher, ‘Wat is Delpher?’, <> (16 May, 2018).


a newspaper for the three Dutch Northern provinces: Drenthe, Friesland, and

Groningen). This newspaper is a suitable case study because of the time when it was established (1888), the number of years it functioned as an independent paper (114 years), the fact that it survived the Second World War, and that it is a regional newspaper. These criteria are important because it enables a larger focus on the development over time of newspaper front pages. Since this newspaper was independent up until 2002, it could determine its own corporate identity for the studied period (late nineteenth century up until late twentieth century). Especially during the Second World War, a lot of official Dutch newspapers disappeared;

surviving this period is an emphasis on the independent status of Nieuwsblad van

het Noorden. Lastly, the (changing) emphasis in Dutch regional newspapers on local

versus national news gives extra stress on the broadening world of the reader, which makes a regional newspaper a more interesting case study.

What distinguishes the present research from the previously mentioned studies is the approach of the front page as an image, as a composition and –


1. The Front Page is/as an Image

A newspaper is a print product of its culture. For their regular dose of information and gossip, the public was first dependent on word of mouth and newsletters, and later on newspapers – nowadays combined with the Internet. At the end of the nineteenth century and during the twentieth century, society and culture underwent numerous changes in quick succession which left their mark on the print output as well as its reading public. Among all the new novels, paperbacks, illustrated weeklies, and cartoons, the newspaper expanded greatly in this period and, eventually, became the first mass medium. A newspaper is instantly recognised for what it is by its form and primarily its front page. How did the form of the front page of modern

newspapers develop and become such a recognisable feature?

To answer this question, I will first look at the technological developments which were part of the changing appearance of the modern newspaper during the late nineteenth and twentieth century. After this, I will delve into some of the cultural developments and reading habits of society since the late nineteenth century which have contributed to the context in which a newspaper should be read and viewed. Thirdly, descriptive theories for the layout of newspaper (front) pages will be

examined. By doing so, this first chapter will illuminate the recognisable image that the newspaper front page has become since the late nineteenth century in Western


1.1 Technological Developments

The newspaper as we know it today has its origins as a political instrument, a connotation that still remains. The late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century were a politically charged time with an increasingly global instead of local experience. This period was also under the influence of the ‘second media revolution’ – the first being the fifteenth-century ‘Gutenberg revolution’ and the third being the current Digital Revolution since the 1980s (also known as the Third Industrial

Revolution).8 Western Europe was just recovering from a succession of political

revolutions and new political movements, parties and entities arised. On top of this, the Second Industrial Revolution was taking hold of the Western World around

7 This includes countries such as Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

8 F. Barbier, Gutenberg’s Europe: The Book and the Invention of Western Modernity, (Cambridge, UK & Malden, USA: Polity Publisher, 2016), p.


1875.9 Here, I will explore some of the key technological developments which played a

part in shaping the newspaper as we know it today.

The First Industrial Revolution is dated from anywhere between 1750 until 1850 and new technologies impacted both the form of the newspaper and the

familiarity with images in general.10 Due to the long span of this occurrence,

humanists are still debating whether this period can be characterised as a revolution or evolution due to the long span of this occurrence. However, there is a general agreement on the fact that the implication of industrialisation is a definite one. This is applicable to both a growth of industry as well as effects on society, including habits and life style. In general, this meant a growth in industrial and agricultural output,

expansion of services, more income per capita and urbanisation of society.11 In the

later decades of this Industrial Revolution this also lead to the founding of the

modern newspapers across Western Europe and U.S.A. around the 1830s.12

Especially the new paper-making process invented by Henry and Sealy Foudrinier was essential for this.13

Besides a faster paper production, the printing process was speeded up by new presses every few years. In 1820 the Koening press already set a new pace with 1.000 copies per hour, but this was far surpassed by the 20.000 copies per hour printed by

the revolving press by Richard Hoe in 1846.14 By the last quarter of the nineteenth

century, the Second Industrial Revolution came into full swing, with inventions such as the telephone, wireless telegraphy and the airplane. At the 1889 Paris Exhibition, Hippolyte Marinoni introduced his advanced rotary press, which had been in

development for over thirty years. This press could print both sides of successive sheets of any size, then cut and fold these into neat piles of complete newspapers. In 1892, Ottmar Mergenthaler put his Linotype machine on the market too, a machine

which finally enabled faster typesetting.15 This meant that by the late nineteenth

century, paper production, typesetting and printing had caught up with each other. Mass production of newspapers – and thus the newspaper as mass medium – was well underway by now.

9 M.R. Levin, Urban Modernity: Cultural Innovation in the Second Industrial Revolution, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), p. 2. 10 C. More, Understanding the Industrial Revolution, (London & New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 16.

11 More, Understanding the Industrial Revolution, p. 16.

12D.L. Eason, ‘The New Social History of the Newspaper’, Communication Research, Vol. 11(1) (1984), pp. 143 144.

13 The Foudrinier brothers were part of the development of continuous paper making machines in the first years of the nineteenth century. 14 A. Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), p. 108.


It didn’t take long before a newspaper reader couldn’t ignore all the other people visibly reading newspapers across the community; at the barbershop, on the

subway, etc. (see fig. I on the front page).16 At the same time, reading a newspaper

can’t be done while ignoring the rest of the page, the other columns and articles as

Banash has previously observed.17 In Imagined Communities: Reflections on the

Origin and Spread of Nationalism (2006) social and political scientist Benedict

Anderson emphasizes the ties between newspapers and time; according to him, the content of the newspaper is ordered chronologically, disregarding relationships or meanings. Walter Benjamin mostly sees the newspaper as an uninterrupted flow of

information, unorganized by insight or wisdom.18

Newspapers were chiefly used as an agent for spreading ideas of revolution

and insurrection.19 Because of this sensitive yet inevitable status, censorship and legal

treatment of the newspaper – as medium and institution – were a precarious matter

during this period. Where first the British were the leading nation in regards of free press since the late eighteenth century, eventually the French set the example for the rest of Western society in 1881. Around the same time as production was at this new peak in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, press freedom was established in

most other Western European countries too, including the Netherlands.20

In the run-up to the First World War (WWI), newspapers had been developing as an independent, popular, free and transnational medium. This halted immediately

when the war began.21 During these years, newspapers were plagued by censorship,

propaganda and calls for mobilisation. Where the late nineteenth century can be seen as journalism’s “golden age”, it seemed that now (the influence of) the newspaper was used for war-purposes only. After WWI, these more hostile trends quickly

disappeared again. A new economic prosperity bloomed in Western society thanks to further mechanisation. Just before the First World War, colour printing had already been introduced in America in 1910, although it would take decades before this was applied to newspaper printing across the Western world. When WWI ended, the transmission of information as well as photographs via the wire, the telephone and

16 Banash, Collage Culture, p. 83.

17 Banash, Collage Culture, p. 16. 18 Banash, Collage Culture, p. 85.

19 Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, pp. 105 110. 20 Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, p. 105.

21F. Keisinger, ‘Press/Journalism’, 1914 1918 Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, 8 October 2014,


the telegraph gave further shape to the content as well as appearance of newspapers

and their front pages.22 Distribution and selling venues of newspapers had been well

established by now. A regular reader base was founded by this time too; e.g. halfway through 1939, three-quarters of the adult British public read a national daily


Unfortunately, war struck again. During the Second World War the transnational communication which had been re-established by the newspapers

during the interwar period was once again broken off.24 Distribution of newspapers,

its reading public, and life in general were yet again disrupted. In the Netherlands there was a great abundance and subculture of resistance newspapers. At this time,

some of the currently best known Dutch newspapers such as Trouw and Het Parool

were founded. In printed forms, there were at least 1.300 publications, including an

abundance of newspapers.25 The legal newspapers during this time were limited by

censorship of both collecting and publishing the news by the German occupiers. A lot of these illegal publications printed during the war were only intended for a small public and these soon ceased to exist or be published after the Second World War.

Nieuwsblad van het Noorden is one of the regional newspapers from the nineteenth

century to still be printed during and actually survive the war. In the period after the war, most Western Europe’s newspapers quickly got back to their prior forms of practice and production.

By the 1970s, yet another new technology became available which changed the

newspaper production process; computers were now becoming affordable.26 The

composition and proof-reading of the pages was greatly streamlined by this new technology. The political significance of the newspaper is emphasized by the fact that it still literally formed the greatest part of the content of the newspapers in the

Netherlands for example as is observed in the former Dutch daily paper De Tijd by

Jan van Cuilenburg.27

22 Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, pp. 149 150.

23 M. Abrams, The Newspaper Reading Public of Tomorrow, (London: Odhams Press, 1964), pp. 52 53. 24Keisinger, ‘Press/Journalism’.

25‘Illegale Pers, Overzicht’, Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam,

<,illegale_pers/overzicht> (25 May, 2018).

26 Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, p. 150.

27 J.J. Cuilenburg, Lezer, Krant en Politiek: Een Empirische Studie naar Nederlandse Dagbladen en hun Lezers, (Amsterdam: VU Boekhandel,


During the 1980s, newspaper publishers increasingly experimented with new ways of giving shape to the news: videotext, teletext, audiotext, and fax to name a

few.28 However, the printed newspaper proved to be the most popular form of news.

When the influence of the Internet on society as well as digitally influenced reading habits started growing in the late 1990s, this was also a place where the newspaper could be distributed. For this first decade or so, newspaper publishers mostly used the Web 1.0 to distribute a digital copy of the originally printed newspaper.

Eventually, the Internet encouraged two more developments simultaneously. Besides this digital newspaper, the same content was also combined with online technological functionalities. Secondly, these news publishers took full advantage of the

possibilities introduced by Web 2.0, of which instant publishing is an example.29

With these new, yet still textual forms of news, the newspaper now is in competition

with itself. In the Netherlands, this issue is partly solved by combining subscription to both the printed and online newspaper of one title.

The changes in form and layout have here been described from a mostly

technological point of view, noting some political events which can’t be ignored in the development of the newspaper. Although these developments have differed in speed and momentum between different regions, in general the daily published newspapers have developed reasonably homogenous in Western Europe – a printed news culture

which includes Nieuwsblad van het Noorden.30 Despite the great variety of types of

newspaper developed since the late nineteenth century, all these different

newspapers evolved quite homogeneously: national, regional, and local newspapers which differ in covered area of news, but also tabloid, broadsheet, compact and Berliner which differ in size. After all, the real competition for newspapers was (and is) more in content than form – disregarding the inclusion of images here for a moment. Whereas this number of types of newspaper – and thus frontpages – has stayed quite constant (disregarding unique peaks such as during the Second World War), the number of copies has grown exponentially since the late nineteenth

century. This is also thanks to a changing and growing audience of readers, on which more will follow in the next paragraph.

28 P.J. Boczkowski, Digitizing the News (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: The MIT Press, 2004), p. 173. 29 Boczkowski, Digitizing the News , p. 51.

30S. Leckner, ‘Presentation Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of Newspaper Media: An Eye-Tracking Perspective’, Visual


1.2 Growing Familiarity with Both Word and Image

During the nineteenth century a reading revolution took place which was the

culmination of the increased production due to technological advances as described

before, as well as the growth of population and literacy in Western Europe.31 This

growth took place despite the fact that these decades were riddled with war and

conflict in most of sixteen counted Western European countries.32 At his

inauguration as president of the renowned British Royal Statistical Society (RSS) in 1909, Sir. J.A. Baines commented on this growth of population of nearly 25% across sixteen Western European countries between 1870 and 1900. Conflicts and war noticeably had an influence on the growth of population per individual country; to compare, the Netherlands was amongst the top three countries with the biggest total

percentage increase of population in these three decades.33 Declining death rates

combined with stable or even growing fertility rates are the biggest contributors to

this overall population growth.34 During the twentieth century this new trend was

tempered by the First and Second World War.

Together with the expanding population, the living conditions improved as well and, consequently, these better living conditions even further spurred on the population growth. Better life conditions included restrictions on general working hours, restrictions on child labour, compulsory basic education for children, a better status for women, the rise of institutional retirement insurance, and better access to

family limitation methods.35 Especially the educational reforms were crucial for the

reading revolution and growing interest in the newspaper. This meant that an growing population was also increasingly better educated.

Due to the restrictions on the working hours, the general population enjoyed more free time and thus more time for recreational activities. This contributed to the popularity of both reading and other cultural manifestations. The growing popularity of reading is one of the reasons for the diversification of reading materials in the late nineteenth century. Comic strips popularised newspapers (and reading) with a

31 A.H. van der Weel, Onbehagen in de Schriftcultuur: Leesrevoluties in de Negentiende en Twintigste Eeuw, (Amsterdam: Leiden University

Press, 2007).

32 These countries are: Belgium, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain,

Sweden, Switzerland, and West Austria.

33Anon., ‘The Recent Growth of Population in Western Europe’, Nature, Vol.83(2111) (14 April, 1910), p. 193.

34M.R. Haines, ‘The Population of Europe: The Demographic Transition and After’, Encyclopedia of European Social History,

<> (22 June, 2018).


growing young crowd too.36 By the start of the twentieth century, literacy was even no

longer a luxury, but a necessity in the Netherlands.37 In the cities in particular this

need for literacy and reading was a must.38 All the factors contributed to the

nineteenth century reading revolution, as can be observed in hindsight.

The popularisation and increasing accessibility of culture for the masses is not only reflected in an increase in reading and available reading materials. Private collectors and royal collections have been around since the Renaissance, but the museum as we know it today was born in the nineteenth century. With more time for recreation and a generally better educated audience, the interest in such institutions is no surprise. Later on, learned societies were established all over (Western) Europe;

together, these form the precursors of museums.39 With the first big European

museums being established and opened to the public as early as the eighteenth century (British Museum in London in 1759; the Louvre in Paris in 1793; and Capitoline Museum in Rome in 1743), the second half of the nineteenth century is characterised by a real first ‘museum boom’. The societal developments and reform as described above, along with an increasingly stronger national identity (of which the Year of Revolutions in 1848 is a manifestation), eventually led to the opening of at least a hundred museum in Great Britain between 1872 – 1887 and fifty museum in

Germany between 1876 – 1880.40 This trend was happening all over Western Europe,

which is emphasized in the Netherlands by the opening of art museums such as Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1849, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in 1866, and the glorious new building for the Rijksmuseum in 1885.

Secondly, the late nineteenth century striving towards capitalistic materialism can not only be explained as an aspiration for the working classes, but was also key to

understanding reality during these decades.41 This is reflected in Impressionism,

which is where an artist captures the movement and colour of reality with his eye and gives his/her own representation of reality (whereas the later Expressionism was

explicitly subjective and personal).42 This rising focus on the personal representation

36 Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, p. 160.

37 Van der Weel, Onbehagen in de Schriftcultuur, p. 8.

38R.E. Park, ‘The Natural History of the Newspapers’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 29(3) (1 November, 1923), p. 274. 39G.D. Lewis, ‘History of Museums’.

40Lewis, ‘History of Museums’, Britannica, (25 September, 2000), <> (22 June,


41 G.L. Mosse, The Culture of Western Europe: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, An Introduction, (U.S.A.: Rand McNally & Company,

1961), p. 214.


can also be traced in the development of the newspaper content. Earlier in the nineteenth century, this trend can already be noticed in the large number of

illustrated weeklies and monthlies being established all over Western Europe.43 Later

on, newspapers were increasingly a reflection of its readers; reports on the political, social, and economic situation were a reflection of the growing middle classes of the

increasingly urbanised day to day life.44 This new interest in news stories before the

turn of the century was already noted in the 1920s by American urban sociologist

Robert E. Park.45 He reflects on the new tendency towards human interest pieces,

especially those that are “particularly picturesque or romantic incidents […]”.46 The

new focus of content, or this so-called ‘new journalism’ of the last decade before the twentieth century, also demanded a more visually arresting form for the news. The Americanisation of the headlines, with the big, bold headlines and cross heads would

eventually set the tone for the modern newspapers all over Western society.47

As described previously, art was now becoming more accessible. At the same time, art was growing more recognisable thanks to reproduction methods (on which I will elaborate in the next chapter). Not just the accessibility of art, but familiarity with reproductions of all sorts of images, including photography, in a broad range of

printed materials (books, newspapers, weekly journals, etc.) contributed to the integration of imagery in everyday life in Western Europe. This increasing general focus on images is part of the reason that newspapers – and the front page – have become such a recognisable concept for everyone, regardless of their familiarity with a specific newspaper brand or its legibility to the observer.

Overall, the improving circumstances of daily life in general were primary to enabling this nineteenth-century reading revolution. Despite two World Wars and numerous other conflicts, the population in Western Europe really had the means to grow significantly during this time. Furthermore, literacy was becoming an integrated

part of life, which is part of the reason to call this time a reading revolution.

Coinciding with the Second Industrial Revolution, the first ‘museum boom’ was also taking place in Western European countries such as Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. These are all signs that the masses had a growing interest in reading,

43 Van der Weel, Onbehagen in de Schriftcultuur, pp. 25 27.


the news and culture in general. On top of this, thanks to an increase of reproductions of art and other images in all sorts of printed materials, the general public was

becoming much more familiar with imagery than before. Lastly, the news was subject to changes in both form and content: the ‘Americanisation’ of front pages went hand in hand with ‘new journalism’ which focused more on stories to which its readers could relate. These are all contributing factors for the visual development of newspapers and their front page, which will elaborated on in the next paragraph.

1.3 Descriptive Theories for Newspaper Front Pages

Despite the generalisations made thus far, there is no such thing as ‘the’ newspaper. Every newspaper has their own corporate identity which is recognisable by the

choices in font, layout and colour. This corporate identity is the most commonly used form of prescriptive theory for newspapers. In newspaper and (online) journalism studies, the focus is on descriptive theories of newspaper pages, both on paper and digitally. Just like the frame is a determining factor for the composition of an easel picture, the size of a newspaper initially plays a major part. Three sizes can be distinguished: the broadsheet (unfolded ± 749 x 597 mm), the Berliner (or “midi”, unfolded ± 470 x 315 mm) and the tabloid (or “compact”, unfolded ± 430 x 280 mm). Traditionally, tabloids concern themselves with more popular news whereas

broadsheets are for serious content. The Berliner is usually an alternative for the broadsheet format.

Despite the differing sizes, a standard set of elements is included on most newspaper front pages. Before getting into the details of layout and visual cues, I will first give a short list and explanation of these components. The masthead refers to the title (or brand) of the newspaper and publication information such as date and

location. On the front page this is usually done more prominently than on the rest of the pages. Then, the greatest part of the page is obviously dedicated to a varying number of articles which include a title, and a combination of text and image(s). The text is presented in columns (this is even the case if a newspaper is in a language which is not orientated left to right and top to bottom; see fig. II for an example of horizontal columns). This does not exclude the possibility of an article merging


A title is more permanent, like a brand name, for a book or chapter.48 Headlines are a

true newspaper manifestation which, like the news, change daily. However, in both cases being direct and/or catchy helps a great deal. Sometimes a subhead is included between the headline and regular text.

Newspapers use several types of images throughout a publication: nowadays, pictures are most common, but drawings, graphics, and maps are all part of the

possibilities.49 Most images come with a caption, where bigger pictures usually have a

longer and more explanatory caption. Some newspapers include a cartoon on the front page, commonly consisting of only one frame (see fig. 3.1.h, 3.1.i, and 3.1.k later on). In regards of colour, black and white dominate most broadsheet front pages. If colour is used minimally, it’s usually red. Full-colour only came along after pictures were a standard part of the front page and after this type of printing was improved in

the 1990s.50 This type of printing is sometimes also used for logos, other types of

images and advertisements. Advertisements generally distinguish themselves by use of borders, different typography and central orientated text within a column. Lastly, the text is often justified along the width of a column and columns are separated by whitespace, in some cases with lines between columns and/or images or boxes around articles and/or images.

Anthony Smith argues that the form of the newspaper hasn’t changed much

since the 1890s up until the 1970s (up until his publication of The Newspaper: An

International History in 1979).51 Such a long run of standardised practices for the

layout of newspapers has helped establish its recognisability, which is key to

understanding the newspaper front page as an image. Other researchers tend to agree with Smith; the new tendency towards so-called tabloidization is something of the

last ten to twenty years.52 This coincides with the rise of the Internet and the changes

in reading behaviour thanks to digitization of society and life in general. Tabloidization theory not only entails an observable switch to tabloid-sized

newspapers, but also a general trend towards a more simplified, direct, concise and

48L. Geller, ‘Headlines And Titles Are Not The Same Thing’, Forbes, 18/5/2012,

<> (14 June, 2018).

49Leckner, ‘Presentation Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of Newspaper Media, p. 173. 50Leckner, ‘Presentation Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of Newspaper Media, pp. 165 166. 51 Smith, The Newspaper: An International History, p. 152.


spectacular form of news.53 In ‘Tabloidization: Form, Style, and Sociocultural Change’

(2010), Australian sociologist David Rowe tracks substantial changes in the

mediascape in general and newspapers specifically. Most important to note here are the uneven occurrences of tabloidization up until then and more far-reaching

dissolution of the grip of formal media institutions on both the content and

distribution. 54 That this is a recent trend is emphasized by the references used by

Rowe in his article which are almost exclusively dated 1997 – 2005.

In Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page (2008) Michele

Weldon observes another manifestation of this tabloidization trend. In regards of content, the ‘everyman’ has become a central player in news and news stories. This is especially notable on the front page. This is remarkable, since the front page is a unique reflection of the dual state of newspaper as both temporary and timeless: a newspaper is quickly forgotten when the new one comes in, but a front page can be

quite memorable for both reader and reporter alike. 55 Academic Orland Kay

Armstrong has another important observation on the front page: “By the front page a newspaper is judged, and rightly so.”56 Thus, her research on the front page is a

justified research into the changing newspapers as a whole (and likewise this research is not ‘limited’ by only studying the front page). Weldon too emphasizes the early years of the new millennium as a turning point for both the content and form of newspapers.

The contemporary combination of (large) images and headlines on front pages is one of the few changes newspapers have undergone in the past decades. Even though as early as 1839 it was possible – and actively done – to make daguerreotypes of public events, ceremonies and other happenings, it wasn’t until the 1880s that reproduction of actual photographs was embraced in newspaper production with the

half-tone process.57 It took another fifty years for the photograph to become a

standard element for newspaper publications of all sizes. 58 Since the 1930s, the

tension between images and text on newspaper (front) pages has increased

53D. Rowe, ‘Tabloidization: Form, Style, and Sociocultural Change’, in: Rupar, V., Journalism and Meaning-Making: Reading the Newspaper,

(Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2010), p. 121.

54Rowe, ‘Tabloidization: Form, Style, and Sociocultural Change’, p. 136.

55 M. Weldon, Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page, (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008), p. 1.

56O.K. Armstrong, ‘Beginnings of the Modern Newspaper: A Comparative Study of St. Louis Dalilies from 1875 –1925’, University of Missouri

Bulletin, Vol.27(5) (1 Feb, 1926), p. 17.

57 Daguerreotype is an early photographic process, but much more expensive and time consuming.

58H. Caple, ‘What You See and What You Get: The Evolving Role of the News Photographs in an Australian Broadsheet’, in: Rupar, V., Journalism


exponentially, just like the size of the images and headlines. The combination of these elements, together with the standardised form as Smith has pointed out, are what make the newspaper front page such a recognisable image. Since the introduction of images on front pages, the newspaper front page has become a much more

interesting image itself. Together, images, headlines, columns and other standard elements make up the composition of a newspaper front page, all playing their part in guiding the (potential) reader.

In 1990, Poynter’s First EyeTrack Study conducted research into these elements at play by tracking the readers’ eyes when viewing the newspaper. The following hierarchy of attention-demanding elements on the front page came forward: (1) the largest image on the page; (2) the headline; (3) captions under

photographs.59 A follow-up research ten years later made a distinction between

broadsheet and tabloid readers. Most people reading broadsheets first viewed the headline(s) and only then the photos. Most of those reading tabloid papers went for the images first; seeing the tabloids used for this research usually had one large

photograph dominating the front page, this is no surprise.60 At the time of both

researches conducted, images were a standard feature in the newspaper composition, but it was still an overall black and white affair.

Since then, a trend of more colour and smaller sized newspapers has become noticeable. Colour images have only been a regular part of newspapers since the late 1990s. This was around the same time that the competition with online news

channels became a real threat. Furthermore, because of tabloidization of the printed news and fragmentation of the news as well as society, newspapers have to deal with both a smaller format to present their news as well as a less focused audience. Sara Leckner has studied how newspaper reading behaviour is affected by presentation factors in ‘Presentation Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of

Newspaper Media: An Eye-Tracking Perspective’ (2012). Traditionally, main images

and headlines attract the most attention when scanning a page.61 With a page of

spread, a reader usually starts with a short glance at the right page (possibly because of the page turning motion and/or advertisement placement), then starts reading on

the left of the middle, continuing over the whole spread.62 Since the front page is read

59 Adam et al., Eyetracking the News, pp. 7 8.

60 Adam et al., Eyetracking the News, pp. 34 37.


before any page turning is done or a choice of story prominence can be made to the same extent, other tensions are at play.

The relationship between text and image is not just one of tension, but is complementary at the same time. Linguist and professor in Swedish Lars Melin summarizes this into three types of functional relationships: (1) the text information is doubled by the image information; (2) the text is complemented by the image, where the image provides information which was not possible otherwise; or (3) the

image gives irrelevant extra information.63 However, even more important than the

use and placement of images is the use of colour.64 If a text is placed beside a colour

image or if the text itself contains colour, this keeps the attention of the reader for a

considerable longer amount of time.65 Colour on a newspaper page is not so much a

visual cue for attention as a stimulus of keeping the attention.

Besides the choices made concerning size and placement of images or colour, familiarity of form and style are important visual factors too. Such familiarity ensures

a sense of confidence and credibility with the readers. 66 Conventions in newspaper

design reaffirm this familiar status of the newspaper daily. However, in response to digitization of society, changing reading habits and the increasingly online

dissemination of the news, newspapers are modernizing their look by imitating visual cues from online news sources. Tabloidization, as discussed above, is in part a

manifestation of these trends. Caple’s observations on this include: use of more colour, modernized fonts for text, modernized headlines with bolder and sans serif

fonts, and shorter articles/less information overall.67 These shorter articles are no

surprise when taking the favourability towards tabloid formats into account. To summarize, newspapers and their front pages have had a relatively stable feel and form since the late nineteenth century. Familiarity of design has generated credibility and confidence with the readers. Since the 1930s, photography has become a standardised element in newspaper design. In general, the design of newspapers in Western society hasn’t changed much until the 1990s, with the exception of

increasingly larger images and more of them too. Since then, use of colour has

63Leckner, ‘Presentation Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of Newspaper Media, p. 174.

64 P.S. Adam, S. Quinn & R. Edmonds, Eyetracking the News: A Study of Print and Online Reading,(St. Petersburg, FL: Poynter Institute, 2007),

pp. 6 – 9.

65Leckner, ‘Presentation Factors Affecting Reading Behaviour in Readers of Newspaper Media, p. 175.

66D. Broersma, ‘Journalism as Performative Discourse: The Importance of Form and Style in Journalism’, in: Rupar, V., Journalism and

Meaning-Making: Reading the Newspaper, (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2010), p. 20.


become key part in the design and visual cues in newspapers, even having a stronger effect on readers than images or headlines. Furthermore, to keep up with digitisation of society, reading and news distribution, most printed newspapers have adopted a more modernised design nowadays. The tabloidization of the printed news has diluted the traditional differences between broadsheets and tabloids, with ‘serious’ newspapers now increasingly conforming to the compositional practices and size of the tabloid format.

As we have now seen, a new and growing society emerged in most Western European countries due to the First Industrial Revolution laid the foundation for the key

developments to follow. During the Second Industrial Revolution, mechanisation, urbanisation and modernization really took a hold of daily life. This further

mechanisation combined with cheaper materials and well established distribution routes enabled newspapers to become a common commodity for all segments of the population. These changes were paired with growing population and literacy

numbers. This contributed to the reading revolution took place during the later decades of the nineteenth century.

Due to the new living conditions, the general population not only had more time to read, but time for culture and art as well. This interest was reinforced by the first ‘museum boom’ in numerous countries in Western Europe during those same decades. These new activities were especially accommodating to the growing middle class. At the same time, this same middle class became central to the developing ‘new journalism’ during this years; content was more focused on stories, which was

combined with a more visually arresting front page to both grab and guide the attention of the (potential) reader. Overall, although these nurturing circumstances didn’t arrive across Western Europe at the same speed, both the form of the


2. Modern Pictorial Art and its Composition

As mentioned previously, newspapers weren’t the only form of recreational activity which became increasingly popular in the late nineteenth century. Art was becoming more and more accessible for the majority of the people. At the same time, the

mechanical reproduction of (pictorial) art accelerated thanks to lithography and later

photography.68 Up until the nineteenth century, the art academies had determined

the rules and definition of art since the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Western Europe. The British and French academies had a far-reaching influence on other art academies and its teachings, as is reflected in the work of

nineteenth-century German painter Hans Thoma.69 Especially the French were a dominating

force in this respect: the Académie in Paris not only had the power of regulating how new artists were trained, but also what art was allowed to be exhibited. The Académie determined the rules for ‘proper’ composition and use of colour for the rest of

Europe, from Madrid to St. Petersburg.70

However, the French weren’t only leading in setting the rules in art. The art and thoughts of French painter Édouard Manet proved to be a turning point for

painting in Western Europe and the start of Impressionism.71 Just after the Year of

Revolutions (1848), Manet and numerous French and other Western European artists took a stance against the reigning academic style in French art. This would go on to inspire numerous modern art movements in Western Europe. Movements such as Impressionism and later Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and

(Abstract-)Expressionism, formulated and published their own ideas on art, colour and composition in very distinct ways. These new and emerging art movements were drawing a new audience too. As described in the previous chapter, society was

changing and the recreational landscape was expanding, including visits to museum, exhibitions and salons. At the same time that a bigger part of society had time and a growing interest in culture, art was diversifying greatly.

68W. Benjamin, H. Zohn (translator), ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in: H. Arendt (ed.), Illumination, (New York:

Schocken Books, 1969), p. 2.

69J. Gage, ‘German Painting of the Nineteenth Century’, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 113(815) (February 1971), pp. 107 110. 70 A. McClellan, Inventing the Louvre. Art, Politics and the Origins of the Modern Museum in Eighteenth-Century Paris, (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 44.

71 Impressionism is a nineteenth-century art movement which can be characterised amongst other things by paintings with open


New styles of art were not developed with the deliberate intention of

competing for the audience’s attention, but some form of competition will always take

place amongst similar activities or objects.72 At the same time, two-dimensional

pictorial art was in competition with photography too during the late nineteenth century. Competition is also key for newspapers, in the sense that a reader must

always be persuaded to buy this newspaper, and not a rival’s title. A newspaper not

only uses the masthead (i.e. newspaper name/brand) to distinguish itself from competitors, but also the layout of the newspaper as a whole and the front page. So, from the end of the nineteenth century onwards, both art and newspapers were very much occupied with developing theories on and styles of composition. As we have already explored the visual side of newspaper front pages in the previous chapter, I will now delve into compositional art theories.

2.1 Prescriptive Theory

The French Académie des Beaux-Arts was established in 1648, the German Königlich Preussische Akademie der Künste was founded in 1696, and the British Royal

Academy of Arts has been around since 1768. In 1808, the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München followed, which would become the centre of the Germanic art world in the second half of the nineteenth century. Together, these art academies would determine the definition of art in Western Europe for an extensive period of time and offer extensive prescriptive rules. Art that didn’t conform to this academic definition, was not deemed fit for exposition in the official exhibitions.

The most important rules were that art had to be rational and had to have a message of great moral worth. This also resulted in a hierarchal order of genres:

history, portrait, genre (daily life), landscape and still life.73 During this time, new art

was not really innovative art, which is not surprising when taking the inaugural speech by Joshua Reynolds in 1768 at the opening of the Royal Academy of Arts into consideration:

“I would chiefly recommend that an implicit obedience of the rules of art, as

established by the great masters, should be extracted from the young students. That those models, which have passed through the approbation of ages, should be

72“Competition” according to the Oxford Dictionary: the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing

superiority over others.


considered by them as perfect and infallible guides as subjects for their imitation, not their criticism.”74

The French academic theory on pictorial composition has proven to be the norm up

until the nineteenth century.75 For the composition of a pictorial composition, or

tableau, not only the pictorial structure was of importance, but also the dramatic one. Based on Aristotle’s Poetics, the mental image of a painter where a time, place and

action are united – that is what really defines a painter as an artist and not just a

‘maker of pictures’.76 The definition of ‘tableau’ was central to for their compositional


For the actual pictorial structure, it is obvious that the foreground will

(usually) attract the attention first. Since historical paintings are the most significant of all genres, these are often the focus of pictorial composition theories. For the distribution of elements in such a composition, several geometric shapes are named as the ideal. However, the focus of figures in a single circle as the most proportionate and most agreeable visually as was proposed by French painter and writer Charles

Alphonse Du Fresnoy in De arte graphica (1668) is rejected by the Académie.77

Instead, it is important to distribute figures with an angled overall focus towards the perspectival point. Here, this ‘perspectival point’ is not to be interpreted as a device of deception or suggestion of space and depth, but as the central point of the

composition.78 Another option is harmonious contrast. Furthermore, the gaze of

figures in a composition is also of importance, since this indicates to the viewer what the central position of the composition is. The Académie recognised that there is not one definitive formula for the perfect composition. Ultimately, these three rules should be taken into consideration: (1) gain an understanding of the principal idea and essential circumstances by studying the histories of the best authors; (2) apply contrast in a discrete manner for a harmonious balance; and (3) study the best

examples of the best works to familiarize oneself with excellence.79

74 J. Reynolds & E. Gilpin (editor), Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses on Art, (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1891), p. 57.

75 T. Puttfarken, The Discovery of Pictorial Composition: Theories of Visual Order in Painting 1400 1800, (New Haven, CN etc.: Yale University

Press, 2000), p. 279.


2.2 Descriptive Theory

In his book The Discovery of Pictorial Composition: Theories of Visual Order in

Painting 1400 – 1800 (2000), Puttfarken explores and illuminates the European

identity and twentieth-century problems of the ‘easel picture’. According to his description, this type of painting relies on three conventions: (1) the illusionistic space, (2) the figurative subject-matter, and (3) the formal composition of easel

pictures.80 Here too, Manet comes forward as one of the key figures in the process of

discarding these traditional conventions in easel painting, along with Paul Cézanne and Wassily Kandinsky. An early sign of this rebellion against the restraints of the art

academies in Western Europe can be observed in the 1860s when Manet’s Le

Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1863) famously was denied for the Paris Salon exhibition of

1863, but was included in the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) exhibition

later that year – although this was because of the content and not form of his work

80 Puttfarken, The Discovery of Pictorial Composition, p. 4.


(see fig. 2.1). It eventually took until the turn of the twentieth century for European artists to really throw off these shackles of tradition.

With his articles ‘The Crisis of the Easel Picture’ (1948) and ‘American-Type Painting’ (1955), American art critic Clement Greenberg singled out the frame as the determining factor for the composition in European painting up from Florentine Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone in the thirteenth and fourteenth century until

modernity.81 Puttfarken uses this as his starting point, together with the writings of

Kandinsky in the early decades of the twentieth century and German art theorist Rudolf Arnheim in the 1950s. Puttfarken puts forward that no matter how

sophisticated or creative the spatial organization of an image on a flat surface is (i.e.

easel picture or, painting), all parts of the picture will always have a fixed

relationship to each other.82 This so-called ‘permanency of aspect’ is as true for a

Renaissance painting as it is for abstract works like Composition IV (1911) by

Kandinsky, as well as any photographic print (see fig. 2.2). Only the distance of the viewer to object can change; in other words, the relationship between the flat image and the observer. Here, one must be aware that a newspaper front page is just

another two-dimensional image too – that is why I think the ‘permanency of aspect’ is applicable the newspaper front pages too. This fixed relationship in front page

compositions enhances its recognisability. After all, a newspaper doesn’t have to be legible for an observer to recognise it for what it is (see fig. V).

Puttfarken continues by emphasizing the external intention of an image towards the viewer. In this case, ‘intention’ is not the intention of the artist, but the

directed attention of a painting as object.83 This expected focus towards us as a viewer

of a (traditional) painting goes hand in hand with the expectation that a painting is significant and meaningful. The importance of this (intentional) meaning of paintings is also reflected in the hierarchy of genres expressed by Reynolds in the eighteenth century as mentioned before. Significance and meaningfulness demand a certain degree of centrality and frontality of the part of the painting which embodies and emphasizes this, or in other words, a visual hierarchy in the composition of an image. These attested values and order of importance in a pictorial composition are precisely

81 Puttfarken, The Discovery of Pictorial Composition, p. 6.


what I will be looking for in the composition of a newspaper front page at a later stage.

Whereas Puttfarken remarked on the necessity and importance of learning from excellent examples of composition in painting for training painters, Locher, Stappers and Overbeeke set out to test the intuition on harmony in a composition. all three authors focus on the ‘proper’ visual of pictorial compositions, which is

applicable to both easel pictures as well as newspaper front pages, amongst other things. Training in the visual arts is tested against their proposed notion of a salient

ability to recognise the organizational structure of an agreeable composition.84 To do

so, the ‘rules’ for a ‘correct’ composition must yet again be determined. Just as the French art academy preached in the seventeenth and eighteenth century,

(harmonious) balance is key in a composition. According to Locher, Stappers and Overbeeke, the following three elements plays a big part in enabling this:

1. the distribution of “weight” about the axes of the pictorial field (especially about the vertical and horizontal axes);

2. cue directionality (principally with respect to left-right lateral organization)

84P.J. Locher, P.J. Stappers & K. Overbeeke, ‘An Empirical Evaluation of the Visual Rightness Theory of Pictorial Composition’,Acta

Psychologica, Vol. 103(2) (1999), pp. 261 – 262.


3. the location of areas of interest or greatest structural weight […]85

In their article, they explicitly test the trained versus untrained eye in the visual arts as well as “right” and “less right” compositions (making a “right” composition is an expertise which a successful artist supposedly has applied in their work). Naive observers were not very proficient in comparison to experts in the visual arts when

identifying the supposedly better balanced compositions.86 They did come to similar

conclusions when pointing out the “right” location of a removed element of a pictorial

composition.87 These results suggest that no training might be required in

recognising a visually “right” composition, although expertise does improve spotting subtle differences in the overall structure of a “right” composition.

Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen not only explore “the rules” for a (correct) visual composition, but also formulate the representational and interactive meaning of such a composition. According to them, these three systems are also interrelated: (1) information value, meaning the placement of an element determines (part of) the informational value (distribution on the left vs. right, top vs. bottom, and centre vs. margin); (2) salience, i.e. different elements have a different position in the attention attracting hierarchy (foreground vs. background, relative size, relative sharpness, etc.); and (3) framing, as in the absence or presence of dividing or framing

lines, emphasizing a (dis)connection between elements.88 This is applicable to

stand-alone images, but also composite visuals, in other words the combination of image and text in a composition, e.g. the front page of a newspaper.

2.3 Connecting Art and Newspapers

Now that these art theories have been examined, it is time to establish the

relationship between art and newspaper front pages. In his book Collage Culture

(2013), Banash explicitly goes into the connection between art and newspapers. As the nineteenth century progressed, both society and life became increasingly fragmented. Banash refers to Fordism as the ultimate instigator of this cultural fragmentation. Fordism embodies the combination of mass consumption and mass

85 Locher et al., ‘An Empirical Evaluation of the Visual Rightness Theory of Pictorial Composition’, p. 262. 86 Locher et al., ‘An Empirical Evaluation of the Visual Rightness Theory of Pictorial Composition’, pp. 268 270. 87 Locher et al., ‘An Empirical Evaluation of the Visual Rightness Theory of Pictorial Composition’, pp. 278 279.


Figure 2.3: Jackson Pollock, Alchemy, 1947.

Figure 2.4: Marcel Duchamp,


production in order to enhance sustained economic growth and material

advancement, which is especially applicable from the late nineteenth to the first half

of the twentieth century, i.e. the Second Industrial Revolution.89 Banash sees two

types of responses by the art and literary community: on the one hand resistance to commodification and a non-alienated relationship to their work, and on the other hand engaging ‘the commodity’ head on.90 The first response can best be

recognised in Abstract Expressionism, like the work by Jackson Pollock (fig. 2.3), and the second more in the art by Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol (fig. 2.4 and fig. 2.5).

To understand the second type of reaction and visual responses to the societal and cultural changes, collage is key for Banash. Collage always consists of two

actions; selection and arrangement.91 The form of these actions doesn’t matter, but

will always be recognisable. This technique is not only used in art, but also in

photography, film and storytelling. Collage uses ‘cut-ups’ (not in all cases literally cut up) to assemble a (new) whole and/or tell a story of transformation. This is mirrored from Fordism, which initiated a fragmentation of previously holistic processes and production methods – where now the production was the eventual assembly of all the individual manufactured parts.

Newspapers were an ideal item in the physical sense as well as their status as first mass medium with an emphasis on the low price, omnipresence and seriality of this printed product. Banash recognises the collage logic in the composition of a

newspaper and its front page.92 So, not only was the newspaper used as material in

the production of art, but its form and layout even inspired fine art. Especially the flat

form of newspapers was an inspiration.93 The fact that the newspaper can be seen as

the urform of modernity strengthens its connection to modern art too.94

Furthermore, Banash also sees a trend of art becoming a commodity thanks to seriality made possible by photography and printing, just like Walter Benjamin did

decades before in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935).95

89F. Thompson, ‘Fordism, Post-Fordism and the Flexible System of Production’, Willamette University,

<> (11 June, 2018).


In this essay Benjamin argues that the aura of an artwork is negatively revalued due to mechanical reproduction.

So far, the assessment of visual theories on newspaper front pages and pictorial art also bring forward some important differences. First of all, from

newspaper designer’s point of view, the purpose of the layout is threefold: to sell the

news, to order the news in terms of importance, and to guide the reader.96 This

entails that theories on the layout, on the composition of a newspaper and its front page are focused on the best way to achieve these purposes. In contrast, the focus of composition theories in art is the instruction of the new generation(s) of artists. A better understanding of newspaper layout can help sell more newspapers and/or emphasize a hierarchy of news, whereas a better understanding of composition in art s beneficial for future art production and strengthens the visual satisfaction. In the context of paintings, a ‘better’ composition in an easel picture will be visually more pleasing and more appealing to the audience. This difference in purpose of theories is in part explained by the general difference in purpose and aim of these two respective fields.

96Y. Desamba, ’30 Awesome Newspaper Layout Examples & Tips’, (5 October, 2013), <http://jayce> (6 June, 2018).

Figure 3.7: Mug with depiction of Starry Night

(1889) by Vincent van Gogh.

Figure 3.8: Page from the New York Times





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