Posters have always carried with them the ability to communicate in a unique way. With the right message, posters can inspire and motivate people to think about things in new ways and perhaps do things they might otherwise never do. Posters can reflect culture, as well as alter it. When combining art with other interests, posters can become powerful tools of communication.
It wasn't until the late nineteenth century, with the advent of the lithographic process that posters became recognized as the type of art they are today. Though the movement began in Paris with superb poster designers such as Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cappiello, it wasn't long before the art spread Holland, Belgium, London, and America (Fusco xiii). Famous American poster designers include Bradley, Parrish, and Hardy.
This new art movement became known as Art Nouveau, which was the leading international decorative style of the early nineteenth century. Art Nouveau posters featured a flowing line which was inspired from nature. The style of this movement was all-encompassing, gathering influence from architecture, graphics, and furniture. Art Deco became the leading international decorative style after World War I and maintained popularity until World War II. Art Deco is best described as a machine age aesthetic, replacing the flowing line of Art Nouveau with streamlined, geometric designs with designs that represented speed and power. Other poster movements that created trends were Capiello, Object Posters, International Typographic Style and the Poster Style. Probably the most prominent of these style would be the International Typographic Style, which displayed an orderly appearance of the elements involved, usually a sans-serif typeface, and black and white photography. The style was clean and simple, as well as tightly structured and harmonious, which was a welcome relief after World War II. (International Poster) poster collecting "craze" was inspired by this new novelty and poster shows and exhibits became popular everywhere. Eventually artists and publishers realized that they could overprint an edition and make it available through print dealers and soon cities exploded with a new merchant class. Posters were inexpensive and became decorative items for the home as well as the streets. Posters became mainstream and were eagerly anticipated, as well as talked and written about. (Fusco 40)
Posters in the late nineteenth century expressed ideas of "success, or what we may call the good life" especially in leisure activities, retail goods, and clothing. It should be noted that collecting posters during this era went far beyond any particular interests in or loyalty to products and seemed to represent an appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of the poster in general. (Kiehl 2)
An excellent example of how posters can be used to promote a cause is how the United States Office of War Information used posters to promote attitudes during World War II. Propaganda, the government discovered during World War I, could be used to control the content of war images. (Davidson 1061) The O.W.I. created posters that encouraged a unified base of support in America as well as support for the soldiers. Another aspect of these types of posters was to paint an evil face on those who opposed America and her allies. A griping example of this type of propaganda is the O.W.I. Poster number 76, which simply has the words "THIS IS THE ENEMY" along the bottom of the poster in bold type with a hand holding a knife, which is driven through the center of a Bible. On the wrist, a jacket cuff is emblazoned with a swastika.
An example from the Art Nouveau movement is William H. Bradley's advertisement poster for Narcoti-Cure. William Bradley was one of the most influential poster creators of his time and once said, "I think the American Poster has opened a new school whose aim is simplicity and good composition. One can see its effect in all directions, especially in the daily papers" (Kiehl 13).
Bradley started his own firm when he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts in 1895. He wrote books and was a trained painter and engraver, but became popular for his posters. He designed posters for Victor Bicycles, and other companies, but one of his Narcoti-Cure poster deserves special attention.
In this poster, which was created in 1868, Bradley creates an unsettling contrast when he uses illustrations similar to what is seen in children's books while advertising the nature of the product. Cartoonish in it's appearance, the image displays a noble knight on his gallant stallion using his sword to contain, or conquer, a tobacco plant, which bears the face of an evil demon. This is an example of how Bradley used fine art to "forward business objectives" (Wong 63). Bradley is able to successfully a display healthy amount of tension when dealing with an issue which, for that time, was not so popular. In contrast, the American World War II poster, This is the Enemy, is quite blunt in its message and content. Where the Bradley poster has a perceived good and evil, the World War II poster makes a definite declaration of who, or what, is the enemy.
Although both posters make a social statement regarding issues relevant to their time, the Bradley poster requires the viewer to pay closer attention to what is going on in the poster to fully comprehend the message; it requires the viewer to look at the image and read the text, almost completely, before making a determination on the poster's message. This is not to say the message is weak, only to point out that in comparison to the World War II poster, the viewer is required to put the pieces together. The story is quite different for the World War II poster as the viewer needs only to view the image to know the message of the poster. It could even be safely said that the World War II poster could be just as effective without the text and the same cannot be said about the Bradley poster. Without the text, or advertisement, the Bradley poster becomes unclear in exactly what the knight would be conquering.
Images may seem to be simple elements of poster art but their style and appearance have everything to do with how the poster is perceived. The World War II poster is an excellent illustration on the power impact graphics can make. With only a few graphics to making its point, the message seems to be even more powerful. One hand, one knife, and one Bible is all it takes to reinforce the fearful Nazi scare that was so prevalent at that time. By using a full-blown "attack" on the Bible, the creator of this poster left no room for question concerning what is wrong vs. what is right. What makes the Bradley poster so interesting in comparison is how its message is conveyed. The poster cleverly plays off of a character familiar to almost everyone -- the noble knight. By placing the knight in an old-fashioned hero situation, the poster expresses the opinion that tobacco addiction is something that needs to be "cured" and therefore, suggests that tobacco is negative. This, of course, is left up to personal opinion, but the poster goes about as far as it can go to convince the viewer to buy the product if need be. Although both posters clearly have an element that is to be associated with something bad, each one displays images quite opposite each other to speak out on particular issues. The fairy tale knight conquering evil may be more meek as opposed to the very realistic form of a knife stabbed into a Bible, but the question remains if it is any less effective. It should be noted that the seriousness of each issue at hand may contribute to the overall effectiveness of the poster; however, that point taken into consideration still allows the argument to stand as each poster communicates its message effectively.
The images used on a poster, if used in the proper fashion, can be greatly enhanced when the right colors are used. Color is an important element when conveying a message. Color employs mood and feeling as well as its ability to emphasize certain aspects of graphic art. Posters that allow colors to enhance their expression usually do so without the viewer making a conscious realization that the images and the colors are working well together. Working well together does not always mean that the poster's message "matches" the colors and images used; disturbing subject matter may work better with images and colors that do not complement each at all. However, there is no hard and fast rule regarding this notion. For instance, in the World War II poster, the red and black colors serve as a powerful background for the subject matter; they create a serious, almost ominous mood. The colors work very well with the realistic images in this instance. On the other hand, the Bradley's use of orange, green, and off-white in his poster create a soft and soothing feel, which doesn't seem to match the…