Old Media, New Media
March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
When I first fell in love with a poster, it was because the image spoke to me. (‘When Hearts are Trumps’ by Will Bradley, 1897) Two figures admiring and adoring each other, one a Pan figure, one a graceful human, created in a style that blended Art Nouveau and The Arts and Crafts Style. In my mind it was a perfect design. Since then, I have been immersed in learning about printing, paper conservation, and about the artistic styles and historical context of this gorgeous graphic art.
Now, in the second decade of my career as a poster dealer, I have also come to understand where vintage posters fit into the history of print media. Before the invention of radio and television, posters were one of the original types of printed mass communication. Their style evolved dramatically over a century and that evolution reflects the major shifts in technology and day to day life in the 20th century.
We are in the midst of a sea change in print media today. Changes in technology over the past one hundred years have sped up the pace of life dramatically, and that is the driving force behind the shift of media from posters, to magazines and newspapers, to television and now onto ‘the splinternet.’ Let me show you what I mean.
Early posters (1880-1900) were simply things of beauty. The artists did not understand advertising at all. The poster lacked an imperative; rather than saying “go out and buy this brand” the artists tried to create a beautiful image to please your eye, in hopes that you, the viewer, might look favorably upon the brand. (‘The Pyrenees’ by D’Alesi, c.1885)
The early poster is very detailed. It was designed to communicate with a population largely on foot. In this time period, the public had yet to climb onto bikes en masse. In fact, a Victorian person might very well pause on the street to read train schedules and absorb multiple vignettes on posters. If you think about it, people had a longer attention span in 1890 than we do today.
By 1900, the poster artists learned how to do more than please the viewer. They figured out how to create demand for their subject. Images of Dance Halls (‘Parisiana’ by Damare, c.1900) and of performers made the viewer long to visit these places and see these shows, but what the artists were doing was not that different from their forbears- they were rendering a stylized version of something real. Other artists had discovered the power of suggestion (‘Source Lagoutte’ by Blott, 1898) implies that the water is from a pure source. But did they understand advertising yet? Not really.
The really big change in posters came with the arrival in Paris of young Leonetto Cappiello from Italy. Cappiello threw away the figurative and leaped right into the imagination with his designs. His posters were populated with imps, and exaggerated figures but most importantly, the images on the posters suggested the brands they advertised, a significant change from the artists who just offered brand plus beauty! (Cognac Monnet 1927) “Le Soleil dans un Verre” translates to “the Sun in a Glass” and there it is- the sun in a glass. If you take it a step further, ask yourself what does Cognac do? It warms you. Voila! Cappiello has achieved branding with the perfect blend of image, idea and text. His arrival on the scene in Paris coincided with the distinct moment when technology changed the speed at which we travelled. The public climbed onto bicycles, they climbed into cars, and the speed of life accelerated. This made Cappiello’s simple images perfect for life’s new speed.
The rest of the 20th Century continued this trend. As the pace of life sped up, winning poster designs were simpler, bolder and easier to recognize from the window of a moving car. (‘Paris’ by David Klein, c.1950, ‘Hawaii’ by Stan Galli, c.1950 and ‘Relax’ by Rene Gruau, 1961) I would argue that with greater speed came a shorter attention span. Today, we get our news in little one line blasts, constantly updated on our email interfaces, our Facebook pages and on our smartphones. If you doubt my hypothesis, ask yourself, would you really pause to take in a train schedule on a Facebook posting today?
Continue the Dialogue about the evolution of media and see the VEP collection (www.vepca.com) in person at the 8th Annual Wooden Duck Trunk Show in Berkeley. April 16-18, 2010 at the Wooden Duck Furniture Showroom www.thewoodenduck.com
1823 Eastshore Freeway Berkeley
University Avenue Exit
Admission and parking are free
Friday and Saturday 10-6, Sunday 12-5
Custom Framing with Artscapes framing http://www.artscapesframing.com
More information: 510.530.3353