How can visual and material culture investigate meaning? : Hippies of the 1960’s

The hippie subculture was born from the social and ethical deformity of 1960’s American mainstream society. Their style became an alternative form of activism, against a society they condemned.  It was their anti- war, anti- establishment and anti- materialistic views that meant they were not only a subculture but a counterculture. Their passive resistance and hedonistic ideals meant they were dubbed ‘flower children’. Terms such as ‘flower power’ were coined, promoting peace and love, the key ideals of the hippie movement.

Hippie clothing was often adorned with ethnic colours and patterns. The counterculture wished to completely distance themselves from capitalist, American society so by adapting ethnic styles and designs, as well as from different time periods, the peasant blouse and skirt for example, they were able to visually communicate their hate for mainstream culture. Miller supports by stating that the counterculture challenged the prevailing culture and argued that America needed a sweepingly new ethics appropriate to an age characterized by never-ending global power struggles, technology, urbanization, environmental catastrophe and new psychedelic chemistry” (Miller, 2012 pg.XIV). Hippies took strong influences from the native American culture, particularly in their jewellery. Making similar styles of beaded jewellery which often included dream catchers. Fringing was also taken from native American style, as well as the iconic hippie headband. This obsession with native American culture stemmed from the activism that was alive in the 1960’s, including the civil rights movement. Smith argues that Hippies were probably the first non-natives, from the post war generation, to learn about and sympathize with the native American’s grievances and call for reform. (Smith, 2012) Hippies also turned to the east and adopted many of their spiritual beliefs, another example of why they wore ethnic patterns and styles. Issitt talks about the work of Allan Ginsberg, an American poet and one of the leading figures of the counterculture, “in the mid- 1960’s, Ginsberg became famous for his belief in eastern spirituality and was an idol for thousands who had also turned to the east for enlightenment”. (Issitt, 2009, pg. 73). It was people such a Ginsberg that placed importance upon the eastern values and was highly influential to the hippie’s ideologies and therefore style. He “spent years travelling the collage circuit, lecturing about spirituality, speech, and poetry” (Issitt, 2009, pg. 73)

The hippie style was very eclectic, often shopping at thrift and army surplus stores, or even making their own clothes. Often made up of long free flowing skirts and tops. Outfits were made up of a wide range of colours, tactile fabrics and patterns. Because of this outlandish compilation, they were able to celebrate their disregard for so called fashion. This style choice was symbolic of the freedom hippies represented. Rebelling against corporate culture by re-cycling old clothes they made their own standout style disposing of social norms. Lobenthal supports this up when he writes “The hippies’ protest against capitalist society informed their impunity to all received strictures or etiquettes about clothes. They coordinated garments so that harmonies and homogeneity were fractured. Mad, anarchic mélanges resulted. They simulated acid phantasmagoria in their color schemes and paraded recycled old clothes, proclaiming them not as cast-off rags but proudly worn pedigree.” (Lobenthal, 2003)

The Vietnam war played a big part in influencing the counterculture. Strongly opposed, the hippies used peaceful protests and their style to visually communicate their lack of support for the horrific violence. Shopping at army surplus stores meant bell bottoms and old army jackets became very popular. In classic hippie style these garments were changed and up cycled. Often adorned with appliqued peace signs and colourful flower patches which was a hippie’s personal, passive, anti-war protest for the whole world to see. Binkley explains how “the words “peace” and “love” became symbolically loaded terms, lumping together a call for military withdrawal from Vietnam, an attitude of mutual acceptance and trust between people, and a sense of personal awareness and happiness.” ( Binkley,2000). The iconic picture of hippie’s putting flowers in the end of troops guns as part of their peaceful protest really highlights the unique techniques and views of the counter culture. The Beatles psychedelic Napoleonic style military jacket worn in their album from 1966 is a good example of some key influences for the mock military style the hippies adopted.

Both men and women wore long natural hair, often women wore little to no makeup and no bras. All this enhanced the freedom they endorsed, particularly as at the time it was extremely taboo. Hippie’s made an interesting message about equality and stereotypical gender norms within this style choice. As long hair was usually reserved for women, and women were pressured to uphold a certain standard of style. Lobenthal explains this when he writes, “They drew attention to the way that all clothes costume the wearer into roles, some-businessman, housewife-so integrated into the warp of society that they were no longer recognized as constructed characterization.” (Lobenthal, 2003)

Drug culture had a huge role to play on the hippie style. This drug culture also stemmed from the ethnic traditions, where the use of marijuana and psychedelic drugs were considered sacred. This obviously had a huge effect on the way hippies chose to visually represent themselves. From their love for bright flowery patterns to tie dye, which came from upcycling their own clothes. Seen as extremely psychedelic with its bold colours and patterns it is obvious to see why the hippies were so attracted to it. Binkley explains the spiritual influences that shaped the counterculture, “Drugs played a special part in this hedonistic moral rebirth. By “blowing one’s mind,” drugs allowed one to see through the fake values of middle-class materialism and into the profound layers of one’s innermost being.” (Binkley, 2000)

The hippie style was made up of key iconic features that clearly defined the counter culture and made them stand strongly apart from the norm of society at the time. I believe the message of peace and love in everything they did, was the most defining feature of the movement. From anti- war protests to challenging gender stereotypes with their clothing, the hippie’s set of ideals was hugely vivid in their choice of style. Their messages were embedded deeply within their visual communication and became an alternative form of activism, against a society they condemned.


Shrek the musical

In my current design the dragon is attached to the body puppeteers legs. to simulate walking. However in this design the dragon can be elevated and fly which is extremely effective! The problem with this is that when elevated the puppeteers operating the wings would have trouble moving them. This could be solved if I manage to learn the mechanics behind these puppets and their movements.

Roger Titley


Roger Titley is a puppet maker I found who makes life sized puppets with realistic movement. He does work for live performances but performances out of the theatre as well as in.


He has a unique plain style. He uses a sort of lightweight craft foam for his designs. A key feature of his designs I would like to take forward are the mechanics behind movement of the dinosaurs neck and elephants trunk. he uses segments connected on a flexi spine to create the movement- simple but very effective.



Bunraku (文楽) is the traditional puppet theater of Japan. It started of as popular entertainment for the commoners during the Edo Period in Osaka and evolved into artistic theater during the late 17th century. Along with noh and kabuki, it is recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Bunraku puppets are about one-half life size and each is operated by three performers: a principal operator and two assistants. Strings are not used, but rather the puppeteers co-operate to maneuver the limbs, eyelids, eyeballs, eyebrows and mouths of the puppets, thereby producing life-like actions and facial expressions. The puppeteers are in full view of the audience, but are dressed in black to symbolize that they are to be taken as “invisible”.


The puppet from war horse is made in a Bunraku style this is the concept I will be trying to apply to my dragon but on a larger scale. Rather than just 3 puppeteers my initial design includes 5, to compensate for the large size of the puppet.

My next step is going to be figuring out how these puppets are made and controlled to create such convincing movements.

Puppetry research- War horse

One of my biggest inspiration has to definitely be from the theatre! Even though my finished piece is not intended for a theatre production I wish to capture the theatrics of a large scale puppet. I was lucky enough to go on a school trip to see war horse in theatres and its breathtaking puppetry has stayed with me.

For me convincing my audience with the realistic movement is absolutely essential. This video explain the movement and making of joey the horse has opened my eyes to how getting realistic joint movements is key to a convincing over all piece.

On stage, Joey is operated by three puppeteers – the Head, the Heart and the Hind – who work together to create the character and noises of the horse. Using the Japanese Bunraku ‘exposed’ style of puppetry, the manipulators can be seen on stage as they articulate the limbs of the horse and communicate its emotions and breathing with life-like accuracy. The puppet is made primarily of cane, leather and Tyvec (synthetic fibre) and its spine is reinforced with aluminium to allow for a rider on top. It takes eight months to build a complete set of puppets for War Horse, all of which are handmade in Cape Town, South Africa by 14 craftsmen and women.




I found todays study group on the punks to be extremely helpful when considering how it could influence my own practice and what messages they were trying to convey with there style.

Punk is:

  • anti- establishment
  • rebellion
  • trashing own clothing- graffiti
  • un-fashion
  • kitch
  • gordy
  • shocking
  • breaking ‘rules’ of fashion
  • styles recycled- particularly from Dada in the 20’s
  • shows how style can encompass political attitude
  • Bricolage

What differences/ similarities does punk have in relation to the previous styles we have studied:

  • takes inspiration from the past
  • shares anti-establishment views with other styles such as hip hop and zoot suits
  • conspicuous consumption in different formats- punks often bought clothes and modified and personalised there clothes by trashing them with rips, graffiti etc. eg. buying other bands tshirts and writing ‘I hate…’ – contrasting hip hop when stealing hood ornaments to imply wealth.
  • recycling un-fashion objects giving new meanings. eg. safety pins vs combs and suits of teddy boys, mopeds of the mods. etc.
  • Bricolage
  • identities made up of more than just clothes- clothes merely visual advertising for opinions and values
  • visually shocking during its time period (however much of punks style would still be shocking to this day) – breaking of rules
  • resignification and exaggeration

How does what i’ve learnt influence my practice:

  • who am I?
  • what am I trying to say about me through my work?
  • do I have any messages I want to convey?
  • everything has a significance- semiotics
  • how does/can juxtaposition and subversion relate to my work?- what significance does this have?
  • what do my choice of materials represent?
  • do i wish to over exaggerate and/or break rules?

Siteless- ‘Globule’

I was inspired by the body and the voluptuous shapes of skin and flesh. I wanted to create a malleable soft effect from a hard substance and experiment with material in that way. I chose to do a plaster carving. I really enjoyed this process, particularly the effect upon the surface that the serrated kidney made, as it resembled the creases in skin. If I had more time I would have liked to make a mould of my carving and cast it in softer materials, such as lard and gelatin. These materials in particular would have made an interesting triptych as not only would they go from opaque to transparent but also hard to soft.  which I feel would have been an interesting exploration of materials in relation to shape and form.