Where the 1960s “psychedelic” look came from

Where the 1960s “psychedelic” look came from

If someone were to show you these album covers,
or these posters… Even if you’ve never heard of the bands featured, you’d probably be able to guess what kind
of music they play. This style has become synonymous with the
psychedelic ’60s. But these abstract forms, and curly, barely
legible lettering — they weren’t created in the 1960s. They came from a celebrated art movement — one
that started almost a century earlier. In the late 1800s, new technology —
electrical power, telephones, cars — was changing the way the world worked.
And the way it looked. And some people, especially artists, living
through this technological revolution were… not so into all the new industry.
To be blunt, they thought it was ugly. Out of this conflict, a new global artistic
movement was born One that went by many different names. Like the Secessionists in Austria and the
Glasgow school in Scotland. But you might know it as: Art Nouveau, which
literally means “new art” in French. Its creators wanted to make art that reflected
the vibrancy of city life. They used flat, decorative patterns, feminine figures,
and organic and plant motifs, often stylized with fluid, abstract forms.
And they applied this new visual language to just about everything – from architecture
to paintings to textiles and beyond. Because they believed that aesthetics should
go hand in hand with utility. And no object was too mundane to be beautiful. Like this entrance to the Paris subway. Or these posters by Alphonse Mucha – advertising
champagne and biscuits which are just as much about being beautiful as they are about conveying
information. Okay, back to the hippies. Like the late 1800s, the 1960s were a time
of cultural upheaval. ARCHIVE: “The Vietnam struggle goes on”
ARCHIVE: “We want the Beatles” ARCHIVE: “The Beatles everybody”
In the US, the epicenter of this change was San Francisco, where hundreds of thousands
of young people descended upon the city. For things like protests,
and drum circles, and of course, concerts. Lots and lots and lots of concerts. Particularly dance concerts, featuring trippy,
psychedelic music from bands like Jefferson Airplane and the
Grateful Dead. And there was one major way to get people
to come to your concert: A good poster. Back then, these now iconic bands were just
starting out, playing back to back shows at venues like the Fillmore and the Avalon
And to advertise this new generation of hippie bands, those venues knew that plain typeface
and a grayscale photo just wasn’t going to cut it. So they commissioned work from a small group
of artists, who developed a brand-new formula for concert posters. One that pulled from a variety of established
design traditions – comic books, surrealism, and, of course, art nouveau. By the mid-60s, art nouveau was already experiencing
a bit of a resurgence. Especially when it came to textiles – dynamic,
floral designs were a natural fit for the hippie aesthetic. Which is probably why in 1965, a museum just
outside of San Francisco launched this exhibit. Legend says this is where some of those designers
were first exposed to Art Nouveau. One designer, Wes Wilson, told Time Magazine
that he admired their “idea of really putting it out there.” And when they started making new concert posters,
these designers took those art nouveau staples — and turned the dial up. Art nouveau is famous for its feminine figures
– most often nude, with flowing hair, and a “come hither” glance. A style the psychedelic designers clearly
picked up on. Look at the way these posters are covered
edge to edge with detailed, two dimensional illustrations. Particularly flowers,
and abstract curves, And, also peacocks – that’s an art nouveau
thing, too. They… loved peacocks
And sometimes, psychedelic designers would use images pulled directly from an art nouveau
poster — but always with a radically different color palette. Instead of art nouveau’s soft pastels. psychedelic artists opted for intense, high-contrast colors, said to make your eyes “vibrate”;
a reference to the “visual experiences of an LSD tripper.” And that curly, cloudy, barely legible font? It started here… on a 1902 poster by Austrian
designer Alfred Roller. In the 60s, artists adapted the bold, dynamic
typeface and pushed it even further – softening its lines and obscuring its edges. Making it nearly illegible. Which served a purpose. It was meant to grab your attention and keep
you interested – at least for as long as it took to figure out what the poster was trying
to tell you. The result was a ton of posters that looked
like art nouveau on acid. As the music of San Francisco spread throughout
the world, so did the aesthetic. In part because posters are easy to own and
reproduce and collect. With fans sometimes tearing them down immediately
after they were put up. The artists behind them even became celebrities
in their own right – a few of them got their own spread in Life Magazine. The posters they made — their vibrating
colors and winding lines — capture the energy of the 1960s. Just like the art nouveau ones represent the
late 1800s. And while these two time periods don’t mirror
each other perfectly, both movements were able to create something
that captured the feeling of a changing world. And their art reflected that.

Dereck Turner

100 thoughts on “Where the 1960s “psychedelic” look came from

  1. d3r3kyasmar says:

    Its basically just an art based on a vision of an acid tripper…

  2. PixelPhobiac says:

    – Edit: I was waiting for the word acid for too many minutes into the video

  3. Bogdan Iorga says:

    Art Noveau on Acid.

  4. pujeet jha says:

    Dr strange

  5. Toast N' Jam says:

    I was a teen during this time and I saw a magazine article on Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. Seeing his illustrations I immediately saw that the "psychedelic" look was influence by Art Nouveau.

  6. andy Hey andy says:

    Dare I say, you can't go wrong with Art Noveau on posters.

  7. Joe Strike says:

    On one acid trip I looked at leaves that seemed to have words, or at least letters distorted to fill the leaves' shape, just like the concert posters

  8. Iván Riskin says:

    Big shoutout to my pal Victor Moscoso, great visual artist of the 60s

  9. ienjoylife says:

    Nicely done!!

  10. Jeffrey Lebowski says:

    The CIA

  11. Marcelo V. says:

    I went to an Alphonse Mucha exhibit 2 days ago and it also made reference to 1960s posters, but also to some Korean comics, as influenced by the great art nouvaeu painter and designer.

  12. Yt Yt says:

    What’s interesting too is that the Baby Boomers are often compared to the Missionary generation born between 1860-1882. Like the Boomers, the Missionaries were concerned with challenging convention. It was they who led the push for women’s suffrage, for instance. They were young adults in the 1890s-1900s when art nouveau came on the scene, just as Boomers were young adults when art nouveau was repurposed for psychedelic art.

  13. Todd J.D. Simmons says:

    It’d be so dope to see one on how Art Deco inspired early Hip Hop posters by people like Buddy Esquire(Rest in Power) and Lonny-Phase 2-Wood!

  14. Giovanni Cervantes says:

    today, theyre using trash. literal trash

  15. EliteWizard407 says:

    you forgot LSD…people went to San Fran for LSD!!

  16. john hand says:

    When i'm high when i see those art as far as i know they sell dope

  17. Kina Tower says:

    Lautrec , i've seen his art in a museum recently

  18. Shu Meister says:

    Functional things can also be made beautiful.

  19. Shirley Schot says:

    Thank you for this one!

  20. Ethel Zelda says:

    Well put together video with good information and also visually kept us stimulated with the information.

  21. Blake Duris says:

    God I wish I was alive during that time

  22. Faith Cooper says:

    I miss this…

  23. Chiara Offreduccio says:

    VERY IMPORTANT FACT: Alfons Mucha was CZECH !!!!!!!
    I just think everyone needs to know that.

  24. Adam Victor Nazareth Brandizzi says:

    Man, now I want to buy a lot of psychedelic and Art Noveau posters…

  25. Joe Brumfield says:

    Mucha was the man.

  26. kjc10 says:

    3:59 Does anyone know the source of the skeleton and roses image ? Artist?

  27. random dude says:

    "like art nouveau on acid", yes, but the "on acid" is the psychedelic look (and it came from psychedelics), not the art nouveau…

  28. Hi my name's davy says:

    " no object was too mundane to be beautiful" don't worry y'all you still a snack even if you think your just a plate.

  29. D. Steven says:

    I clicked because I saw Alphonse Mucha. I had a poster of his Four Seasons hanging in my classroom as a piece of culturally significant art. More than once did a parent ask if the teasing feminine forms were appropriate for grammar school display. It never got old.

  30. Christie Ng says:

    was just wondering about this today

  31. Lloyd Evangelista says:

    Why am I hearing Chloe from We Bare Bears?

  32. Bekkaanneee says:

    god i love art nouveau and mucha, but i had no idea about the 60s connection! that's so cool!

  33. Robert Liu-Trujillo says:

    Great video! Would love to see one about the early hip hop posters/flyers via Buddy Esquire, Phase 2, and Eddie ed!

  34. Psi Loki says:

    Everything single thing is just an evolution of something from the past.

  35. Spoogebooge says:

    Thought I was clicking on a Baroness song for a second. I was mistaken.

  36. M0lecular Ep1phany says:

    Thank you for telling me that tripping makes me see weird things Vox.

  37. its ya boi says:

    i'm a little disappointed there wasn't more talk about the influence of LSD on art and society in the 60's, since it was one of the big things you think of when you think of the 60's….

  38. YungLine says:

    I’m gonna need a Spotify playlist for the songs in this video

  39. Francisco Muñoz says:

    Statians trying to make everything theirs

  40. The Colorization Channel says:

    Psychedelic Rock soon inspired Heavy Metal and Prog Rock

  41. beinrangel says:

    I mean If you've ever done acid….

  42. Liz Neptune says:

    you got the acid warping spot on correct. good job!!

  43. Demitrival says:

    Ugh I wish I can write scripts like this one

  44. _ Sundal says:

    You couldn’t credit more than 1 artist?

  45. Nein says:

    1800-1899 is the 19th century… just saying

  46. Your Daddy Onceler says:

    My parents were born in the 1960s.

  47. The Doodling Dino says:

    That was really cool 😊

  48. Black White says:

    Ohhh you're telling me no one at Vox has ever done acid and tripped?

  49. Bbyathena says:

    Great video

  50. David Antolínez Uribe says:

    Such an awesome video! Three thoughts on this matter:

    1- The first Art Nouveau posters were highly used in theater and Opera. It's interesting to see how two very different music genres like Psych Rock and Opera have more in common than you might think.

    2- Rock used – or recycled – the art nouveau aesthetics once again in the 90's. Specially all the 1995 Smashing Pumpkins era was very victorian, less trippy than the 60's and a bit more goth/dark.

    3- Even nowadays, neo-psych bands like Blue Pills or Jesse and the Ancient Ones are using heavily the same kind of posters. You might want to check them out.

  51. John Smith says:

    anyone know the name of the artwork at 1:24?

  52. atravesdelrio says:

    3:59 "In 1966 Kelley and I were in the San Francisco public library looking for inspiration for a poster we were doing for the Grateful Dead. We stumbled upon an illustration in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a twelfth-century Arabian work of poetry"

  53. Noah Alvarez says:

    How about be honest and say it's because of psychedelics. It's in the name. Psychedelic art. Don't try to say, "oh yeah they did this cause they liked how it looked"

  54. River W says:

    I saw an exhibition of Mucha’s work recently , pretty stunning

  55. CertifiedCry says:


  56. ace lopez says:

    60s should have a come back

  57. Sahara L says:

    thank you vox for another interesting & well researched quick fun fact 🙂

  58. theEXOaudio says:

    hope vox makes more videos about design, graphic design or other art movements too

  59. Nikola Mirkov says:

    Absinte v.s. acid

  60. Acid Rant says:

    This is back btw

  61. geezusispan says:

    Some of the art is obviously taken from Art Nouveau. Some of it was never seen before, because it came from taking psychedelics. It's not just one style. Actually the video explains the other influences.

  62. Unitário says:

    i didnt know this style existed, but i feel like it was what i needed. now i have a lot of things to study about it!!
    I'm working on a piece that is similar to art nouveau that is going to come out this week at @tavio_arts(tt and insta), if you want to see.
    Hint: its based on mona lisa

  63. lauge hjort says:

    Everything that has ever happened in human history is an accumulation of the past. And that intertwinement is so damm exciting!

  64. Ehhh Ohhh says:

    I recently started taking an interest in Art Nouveau, so this vid was perfectly timed!

  65. beflygelt says:

    "come hither!"

  66. Snowy says:

    The whole video is just, it looked like art nuveu on acid.

  67. jim crow says:

    Yeah man, cool.

  68. pleasechange myname says:

    I thought Vox and the rest of gizmodo went extinct?

  69. Sebas Manrox says:

    0:58 It's "Modernismo" In Spanish.

    Good vid!

  70. Cheerube Bayonetta Holopainen says:

    great art! love it

  71. nes gul says:


  72. Primtones says:

    It's interesting that the style disappeared so fast and bands turned to a more earthy aesthetic.

  73. Paula Genta says:

    I'm a simple person: I see Alphonse Mucha, I click

  74. Sara Sofie says:

    this is so interesting!!!!!

  75. Joseph Weiland says:

    I mean, I guess it really was Are Nouveau on acid… or lsd

  76. Liz Oakland says:

    Aaaa i saw mucha and i clicked

  77. Nguyen Monat Son says:


  78. Loretta Loveland says:

    These posters were printed by a business called “Funky Features” Sausalito,California owner Samual Ridge or called “ Funky Sam” ! I had a huge collection and knew “Funky Sam” Also they became “black light” posters!

  79. Thomas Nimmesgern says:

    5:15 Their art reflected the world they lived in.
    Imagine such a video in 2069, fifty years after our contemporary times. What will they say then about the art in the 2010's, and what world did the 2010 arts reflect?
    (I'm uncertain how to answer that, partly due to the fact that I don't know much about contemporary arts.)

  80. Stuart McGill says:

    Very informative

  81. DecimusYna says:

    I like it.

  82. pizzaparty978 says:

    Anyone have a link to some info on the original skeleton with roses pic, that the Grateful Dead used?

  83. AlterMay says:

    As soon as I saw Alphonse mucha, I clicked. My favorite artist most definitely

  84. amehrer1 says:

    I like how she deliberately avoids pronouncing Jugendstile haha. Cool video

  85. Cinderpool says:

    Wes Wilson is the dad of my mom's best friend growing up and throughout college. we see him about once a year and I never realized he had an actual reputation lol. seeing him pop out in this vox video took me a bit by surprise

  86. Wesley Filho says:

    Six words: Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band!

  87. Rony Camacho says:

    -“Protest, and drum circles and course concerts, lots and lots of concerts”
    -Don’t forget the weed.

  88. Jeremiah Link says:

    Theft was common among the people of this era.

  89. Kayla LK says:

    One word: Drugs

  90. MegaSocky says:

    Dude i love mucha. He popularized the whole bold outline look and I just generally loves his designs and borders. Hes a big inspiration and i always get told my art is trippy haha

  91. Liam Mcbain says:

    First time I’ve ever heard an American say Glasgow right 😂

  92. Keyboard Dancers says:

    Why do so many people use the croaky part of their vocal range?

  93. Rhett Broadby says:

    That was great, well done

  94. Daemon says:

    Tl;dr drugs

  95. Riker Nguyen says:

    Can anyone do a video explaining why art in the 90s is the way it is?

  96. b says:

    um……yeah, that and DOING PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS!

  97. JK Karuppiah says:

    I guess at some point poster designers realized people like to attend concerts all trippy. There’s posters when on shrooms must be epic. When tripping, nothing will seem like a bad idea.

  98. Taoi Seach says:

    The Arabesque style in 19th century Europe was the main inspiration for the Art Nouveau movement. An Arabesque exhibit at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown MA will begin in mid-December exploring the influence.

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