What I have learnt from Constellation

Throughout the past two terms I have been learning more about how I can best use my practice to good use, which included learning from a range of topics in the world of art and design. These topics included the philosophy of design, subcultures, objects and their meanings, deeper thinking into how I can best use my practice, what influence my practice has on the present and future world, and how and why to create deeper meaning within my practice and what I produce. From learning about putting theory to my practice, therefore putting my practice into context, I have earned a greater understanding which has influenced my work, and the way I think about graphic design, profoundly.

After an incredibly mind opening start in term one with the subject of ‘New Materialisms’, it had prepared me to think more deeply about my next subject, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. This was about subcultures throughout the 20th and 21st century within the younger generations. A recurring theme within this subjects was referring to old styles and fashions to create new styles by combining different cultured objects and clothing. By using past styles, these new styles had created new and very different meanings and signification for these past styles. For example, the first week we had learnt about Jean-Paul Gaultier’s use of a corset and trousers as a costume for Madonna in her Blond Ambition world tour in 1990 for the song ‘Express Yourself’. The corset was a style that had become popular during the 18th and 19th century to make the waist look thinner and the bust bigger. With the feature of the trousers underneath the corset, it had created a juxtaposition with traditional views of the male and female gender; therefore creating a new gender along with a new meaning. This also expressed the title of the song. I had discussed this design further in a post I had written, talking more about the deeper meaning behind the design of the costume.

From learning about what deeper meanings and ideas have been created with a revolutionary design to the fashion world, and even in promoting the LGBT community, this had lead me on to think further about what I have produced in the past that has been based on old styles, where I have created new meanings from combinations of styles, and what effect this has had on my present and future work. Many designers work in certain styles that they have combined from old styles, proving to influence other designers’ and artists’ work.

In the second week we were presented with the subculture of Goth in the late 1970’s. The Goth culture was largely based around Gothic literary and cinematic tradition from the Victorian era, such as Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker. I had a brief read at Gothic and Victorian literature at an article written by Joseph Bowen at The British Library. The article explained what it meant to say that a text is Gothic and what themes recur in Gothic novels, which were described as dark, mysterious, romantic, and macabre. Through looking at style that was featured in the Goth subculture of the late 70’s, we found that religious symbols and representations of teachings and moral were present in the majority of the styles.

Then we had learnt about the subcultures of hip hop, punk, and the Ted boys. I found recurring themes into what meanings can be created, and how and why these subcultures pick up their styles. I’ve learnt that these subcultures can:

  • change in associations with brands
  • change the functions of any object
  • use history and heritage to influence a style
  • appropriate anything into any style
  • turn subculture trends into ‘parent’ culture trends
  • constantly change style

The subculture I found most engaging, interesting and broader in context was the Punk subculture. The gender map had radically began to alter social acceptance. Women were feeling freer to express difference, whereas before the mid 1970’s this was seen as misfits. By drawing on subcultures they contravened the norms of mainstream femininity. It changed the way women operated, giving women power over their own rights which promoted the rebellious punk fashion. Before the mid 1970s, women were seen as objects, expected to be thin, being defined by their bodies. expected to look like supermodels, with the idyllic ‘barbie doll’ image. Punks created the rhetoric of desirability. It questioned self values and attitudes. Makeup, jewellery and clothing re-signified what it was to be a women, promoting feminism in society and standing for equality and what was right. If someone did something new, it questioned and mocked an original ideology.


By learning about these subcultures it had prepared us to learn about how our own individual styles in the present day have been influenced by these past styles and how we have combined these styles from subcultures to create our own identities. Ted Polhemus in 1997 described post-subculture as a ‘supermarket of style’. This had perfectly summed up what elements of design were made up of today as to why, where and when they were taken from.

Referring to how ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ has related to ‘New Materialisms’, I think my experiences with ‘A Model of the Body‘, ‘The Greatest Gift; sight‘, ‘The Mighty Tool‘, AND ‘Plastic Brains‘, all relate in some way to what I have learnt from this term about attitudes, styles, and ideologies of people from different subcultures. I felt I have learnt more from this term than my first term because of how I can put so many relative ideologies and theories to context with my own work instead of how I feel and what others might feel about different elements of all subject matters in the world.

Regarding my summative assessment, I intend to explore how photography has had an impact on the way people think in and of society. I will read key texts on photography linking it strongly to how I think about my practice and what influence subcultures have had on photography.



Author: jennifertaylorgraphics

First year student studying Graphic Communication at the Cardiff School of Art and Design

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