Michelangelo Caravaggio changed the direction of art history by introducing new innovations in composition, the absence of light & more relevant interpretations of biblical & mythical stories for its time.
Of equal importance a shift major occurred in the 1600’s. The church was faced with the dilemma of having to reconnect itself with its people.
After the Black Death, the Crusades, & the famines that plagued the middle ages came a period of a cultural re-grouping and potential for easier times.
The conundrum was many had seen first hand the horrors of life which the church was unable to protect them from and was losing confidence among it’s audience.
It’s art in particular was far too fantastical, cherubs, heavenly atmospheres and Utopian splendor which, after a virtual apocalypse had little relevance to a now hardened population. It all seemed unbelievable and almost a laughable in comparison to everyday life.
Attendees were dropping off rapidly, people stopped listening and a conscious decision was made to the future direction of the churches art to regain confidence with its people. Enter Caravaggio!
The style of the times
The style of the time was Mannerism. Notable for its almost unnatural beauty, it was unrelatable to the people of the time & actual life.
The church needed to find an alternative to spearhead the Catholic Reformation & Caravaggio’s style had all the ingredients.
His style comprised of close observation of the current human state, physically, emotionally & psychologically. It was ragged, unashamedly real, bordering on the grotesque. His style relied heavily on Chiaroscuro, dark lurking backgrounds highlighted with foreground characters leering from it’s blackened abyss. There were no ripe peaches in Caravaggio’s work, it was rotten grapes, the best you could hope for of the time.
It was just what the church needed to bring heaven back down to earth artistically. Relatable grit it’s audience were already too familiar with, a style that would mirror daily struggle, saying yes, we understand you.
Caravaggio was put to work, commissioned to reinterpret and paint classic biblical stories in common day settings. His first piece, Calling of Saint Matthew completed in 1600 was an instant hit. Putting Jesus in casual social situation, in a gritty bar to recount the momentous scene. It was an instant hit, relevant and plausible to the population.
Fast forward 450+ years
Caravaggio went on to secure a string of religious commissions featuring decapitations, violent struggles, torture, & gritty death. Extreme? Yes! Regardless, it was what the people of the time needed to galvanize themselves and feel understood by an institution.
Caravaggio himself lived a tenacious life, a true scoundrel, easily riled, violent & murderous, he was a product of his time & master of observation of what was going on around him. He & this pivotal moment in history is more relevant today. When I take on a project im reminded to keep my Caravaggio on. Who is this really for? Who are we trying to connect with? What are their needs? What makes these design decisions relevant and attractive to the end user?
We live in a time where trends change even faster, a time where its seen as normal to buy a drop shipped bikini worn by an influencer for 2 begrudging minutes to up-sell for 2500% of its initial cost.
The pace is fast and staying relevant is more important than ever. Keeping up and not being precious about our design assets and being ready to move at the right moment to stay aligned with our demographic is key to growth & instilling confidence in our audience.
Designing considerations for today
Today design requires even more thought. Our society is not like the Caravaggio’s 1600’s. We have a plethora of lifestyles & subcultures with their own unique styles that evolve. Segments within segments and wider generation gaps due to extended lifespans.
Forcing current trends into inappropriate markets will only alienate potential customers much as Mannerism alienated Caravaggio’s generation. We can perceive a design to be (opinion here), only if you looked deeper its features support its intended demographic.. Bad design only really comes into effect when its features do not consider its intended audience.
Now staying relevant includes considering global trends or consciously choosing to ignore them to relate to a particular demographic while having a point of difference. Some markets burn out trends. SaaS is the most conspicuous culprit here. Want your SaaS product to blend into the crowd, then follow this recipe.
Some non intrusive pastel hues
Nondescript cartoon person with bulbous features
List of product features
Get your Caravaggio on & leave it on while considering the relevance your brand & product has to your audience!