One of the most common forms of art is the poster, which also happens to be one of the easiest to understand for the audience. This multimedia platform, which employs both textual and graphic components, is designed to grab the attention of the user and provide as much information as possible in the little amount of time they spend on it.
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Because it is so mass-produced, many people undervalue it or even reject it as an art form, despite its widespread use and illustrious past. The Canvas Art Factory explores the rich history of the poster as an artistic medium in this piece. We hope that after reading the piece, you will have a fresh appreciation for the medium!
An Antiquated Media
The 1840s and 1850s saw the “birth” of the modern poster, however the history of posters as a medium extends far deeper. It is arguable that the first instances of what we now refer to as posters are found in prehistoric artwork, such as cave paintings or triumph steles from the Ancient Middle East and Egypt. Although lithography is the immediate ancestor of modern poster art, its influence on the development of the medium as an artistic medium was minimal.
Although the lithographic method was still in its infancy and could only generate a restricted range of colors, advancements in printing enabled its mass production for advertising purposes. When Jules Chéret created a novel lithography method in the 1860s, everything was altered. Richer, more expressive colors could be used in this “three stone lithography,” which reduced production costs and improved the poster’s aesthetics. He focused on elegant design and aesthetics in the creation of these lithographs and prototype posters, drawing inspiration from the then-new and well-liked Ukiyo-e woodblock prints in Japan. He is referred to as “The Father of the Fine Art Poster” because of his contributions to the development of the lithographic technique and poster creation.
Pioneers of the Poster
It wasn’t just Jules Chéret who pioneered this emerging art genre in Europe. Additionally, he wasn’t the first to try with poster art; several artists had done so before him as well as his contemporaries. These include, to mention a few, Alphonse Mucha, Adolphe Willette, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The primary thoroughfares of Paris, adorned with a plethora of vibrant ads and posters, came to be known as “the poor man’s picture gallery” due to the poster’s increasing appeal. This wasn’t bad at all since the poster, which was art, had been accessible to the general public. Anyone could now better appreciate the arts, composition, and aesthetics, and it was no longer exclusive.
The Poster Era: A Golden Age
The trend took off after Chéret invented a novel lithography technique that made it simpler for other artists to use the medium. During this “Golden Age of the Poster,” posters promoted a wide range of activities, from circuses and cabaret shows to athletic events, and they were popular across Europe and beyond Paris. One of the most recognizable posters from the Golden Age of the movement is Théophile Steinlen’s promotion for the cabaret Le Chat Noir in Paris. During the Belle Époque, or end of the 19th century, posters evolved into more somber works of art.
This era, which began at the very close of the Franco-Prussian War, was marked by optimism and tranquility throughout the region. The arts thrived, scientific and technological advancements were made, and the colonial powers grew stronger. This period may be used to trace the beginnings of several art trends, including Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and the Modern contemporary art movement. Chéret produced his now-iconic Maîtres de l’Affiche during this “Beautiful Era,” a compilation of 256 lithographic plates and posters by 97 artists, who together served as the era’s “Masters of the Poster.” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, T. Privat-Livemont, Dudley Hardy, Eugène Grasset, and Chéret himself are a few of these painters. Chéret’s Masters of the Poster Collection included 256 posters, including Privat-Livemont’s Absinth Robette.
Throughout this time period, posters were always evolving and improving. Its current movements characterized it, much like any other movement that emerged during the “Beautiful Era.” The emerging Art Nouveau style had a significant impact on and improved poster art, helping to define many of the “norms” of the medium, including curved forms and stylized feminine figures. European culture evolved to appreciate and admire posters as they became increasingly commonplace and dominant in the public areas they occupied. The wealthiest households and the lowest class laborer at last discovered a media they could both enjoy. In contrast to the vibrant and lavish posters and advertising that were becoming more common in Europe, things in the US took a different direction. Circus advertising, like those for the Ringing Bros., were the most popular type of poster art in the 1850s. The skillfully designed poster was rarer than mass-produced, hurriedly made woodcuts, and critics of the time disapproved of the subject matter, cluttered style, and vivid colors.
American posters adopted a more understated, realistic style with muted colors and a straightforward structure. This poster subgenre was invented by designers like Edward Penfield, whose creations were well-received in Europe, a continent where posters with greater color and ostentation were the norm. Above all, American poster art planted the seeds for a poster movement that would become prominent in the years after the “Beautiful Era.”
Posters’ Ascent to Propaganda
The 19-year-old Yugoslav nationalist and Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip killed Austria-Hungary’s heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Following his murder, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which sparked the outbreak of the First World War as Serbia’s allies began waging war on one another. The “Great War” put an end to the period of Western history that many referred to as the “Golden Age” and dealt a blow to several art groups.
Even before the war, the Art Nouveau movement was on the verge of extinction, but the brutality soured the people’s sense of community, and it never recovered. During this turbulent period, the poster found a new home in the shape of war posters. The media was used by fighters on both sides as a call to arms and rallying cry. Above is Lord Kitchener Wants You, an Alfred Leete war poster that is undoubtedly the most well-known and iconic of its day. It perfectly captures the essence of the poster as a direct communication tool with the audience. Reduce Classic poster art saw a slow decline as the poster found new uses in propaganda and advertising. The reception of the once-popular vibrant and ostentatious poster art was impacted by the perception of Art Nouveau aesthetics as outdated and useless following World War I. Posters would become more and more popular again as Art Deco and other contemporary art trends spread throughout Europe, offering fresh aesthetics, but the medium itself never again reached the same level of ubiquity as it did during its Golden Age.
These days, posters served as both personal ornaments and platforms for self-expression or countercultural movements. During this period, other poster art sub-niches emerged, including the object posters in Switzerland and the minimalist Sachplakat in Germany. The poster, which would be regarded as high art in and of itself, became the main medium of the Social Realism movement during the Great Depression in the United States, where the seeds of realism took root early. Unfortunately, Nazi Germany utilized posters as propaganda to further its anti-Semitic efforts throughout World War II, demonstrating how the poster’s power can frequently be exploited to the harm of others.
Posters for Today
Poster art is becoming more and more popular these days. These days, they are a common ornamental item in houses and public areas. There are many inspiring and personalized text posters, and graphic posters draw inspiration from both historical and modern art trends. It is also observing a new function as the primary medium for replicating well-known paintings as canvases prints. Although digital and internet advertising has made posters more competitive in the advertising world, posters are still quite important in drawing in potential customers.