Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lost in the Library, Installment 1, Prop Art

And so begins the weekly installment I call, Lost in the Library, wherein overlooked treasures hidden away in the CFL collection are unearthed for all to see. Our first installment focuses on Gary Yanker's fascinating study of political posters, Prop Art, published in 1972 with an introduction by NBC news anchor John Chancellor.

Yanker is first and foremost a collector of posters, a passion he explains as originating from his lack of funds for more conventional, and pricey, works of art. Both left and right wing propaganda posters are represented in an effort to show balance and free the presentation from endorsing any ideological belief system.

The most striking observation I came away with as I read through this twenty-five year old collection, a study of then current propaganda, is the amount of artistic effort and creativity present in the presentation. The posters depicted were ephemeral, serving a cause often completed or lost soon thereafter. Whereas propaganda in the form of posters once served as a viable form of communication for spreading ideas, the internet and television have now supplanted poster, and print in general, as the most widely available sources for propaganda. There is something almost quaint in the amount of faith the poster makers seemed to place in the messages on display.

Yanker's analysis of political poster design begins with the renaissance for the medium during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the 1968 Paris student riots. He also discloses the popularity of posters as a propaganda tool - low cost, freedom from censorship, and the ability to implant ideas. Yanker also looks at how political posters are created with particular audiences in mind. Posters can be emotional or rational in their appeal, abstract or representational in their artistic approach.

The author's lack of judgment regarding the political merits of messages represented in the propaganda posters he so loves is a refreshing break from the often opinionated positions of those presenting the ideas and imagery of far left or right groups. Prop Art is certainly no longer a contemporary study of political posters as was meant when published, but it does present a beautiful collection of images filled with creativity, artistic merit, and conviction.

Websites of Interest:

International Poster Gallery
An excellent collection of propaganda posters from around the world

North Korean propaganda art

Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages

Books of Interest in the CFL Collection:

A Concise History of Posters: 1870-1970
Barnicoat, John

The Poster: An Illustrated History From 1860
Harold F. Hutchison
Ref. 769.5 HUTCH

Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 To The Present
Nicholas J. Cull
Ref. 303.375 CULL

- Christopher Bishop

1 comment:

Richardson said...

Thanks for the link.