The World At War | Anna Powell

Recently we had our fifth lecture with Anna Powell. The lecture was the second part to the topic “Modern Life is Rubbish?” and involved us studying Propaganda, Constructivism and Dada. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to fully explore Constructivism; therefore we will proceed with that in lecture 6.

We began by looking at the classic Alfred Leeke propaganda poster “Britons [Lord Kitchener] wants you” created in 1914.

This poster is very recognisable, the first time I saw it was when studying history in High School. The design is persuasive and used as a guilt trip by personalizing the viewer into thinking they specifically needs them. Many propaganda posters during the First World War boosted moral; the message was serious and they often used a realist representation and a traditional aesthetic. This is because the designs had to be created quick, efficiency and at low cost, therefore they tend to have a similar style appearance.  At the time, journalists didn’t have much knowledge as to what was going on in the War; therefore the message of the propaganda posters was always similar and included no specifics.

As this poster is so well known, it has had much influence in other design. One example is James Montgomery Flagg’s “I want you for the U.S Army”.

The poster’s imagery shows an obvious influence from the original “Britons wants you” with the direct pointing to the viewer. It also uses Uncle Sam to represent the U.S, just as Lord Kitchener did from Britain. At the time, this poster in particular really sold the war to the youth. This is because the same persuasive guilt trip took action. Young, gullible and inexperienced men would volunteer for the war because of this.

Another great example of making the viewer feel guilty is Savile Lumley 1915 “Daddy what did you do in the Great War?” poster.

Savile Lumley’s poster has become one of the best known because of its tone of emotional blackmail. The idea was actually that of a printer, Arthur Gunn, who is reported to have imagined himself as the father in question. In fact, after having a sketch of the scene made up by Lumley in 1915, Gunn joined the Westminster Volunteers.

We then moved in to looking at the role of women in propaganda posters. Women were often perceived as the role of motherhood, often used in the Nazi regime. By doing this it created the representation of duty to your country, wife and your family. Women were often portrayed as domestic and helpless, victimizing them and showing the brutality of the enemy. Doing this, the men felt as though they should fight for their women.

However in the Soviet posters, women were portrayed more powerful and helpful towards the war.

Miller is thought to have based his “We Can Do It!” poster on a United Press International wire service photograph of a factory worker who was 17 and briefly working as a metal-stamping machine operator. The intent of the poster was to keep production up by boosting morale, not to recruit more women workers. It was shown only to Westinghouse employees in the Midwest during a two-week period in February 1943, and then it disappeared for nearly four decades.

Women were then seen as role models sue to “The Gibson Girl”.

This figure was seen as a role model because she was very relatable, sort of the “girl next door” and was very popular in America. Another role model in women’s propaganda was “The Christy Girl”.

Like “The Gibson Girl”, Christy was seen as an iconic and relatable role model in America however was often sexualised in propaganda posters.

We then moved on to the well-known poster “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

This iconic poster was commissioned by the king during the Second World War, however was never released as matters changed making the poster unnecessary.  There was also another two versions, however were not as popular.

Most copies of the original poster were destroyed, however years later, a merchant discovered some. Once they were available, they became huge and over the years there have been multiple recreations of the famous poster.  One good example is the logo for reality TV show- Made in Chelsea. There is also a website where you can input the text and create your own poster.

We then moved on from propaganda and began discussing Dada which was an Art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors and folly of the war. The art, poetry and performance produced by Dada artists was often satirical and nonsensical in nature. With Dada, it always including a similar interesting typeface; it was because it was used as a medium for creating meaning, separate from the linguistic meaning. The movement often included collage and photo montage. One example of Dada art is Francis’ Picabia “L’Oeil Cacodylate, the Cacodylic eye” in 1921.

It really shows the idea of text as an the image itself. Dada was strongly a typography movement that was often used as manifestos but it was also very experimental. Another example of Dada Art is Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters believed that typography can be art itself and had an innovative approach to type and montage including aspects that were similar to futurism.

Anna showed us an example of how Dada influenced other design, but also animation. This is the 1928 silent Dadaist film.

We then ended the session with another video on Dada, however this is from Hugo Ball. If you watch the entire video you should be proud of yourself.

I found this lecture rather interesting, more so the propaganda posters. I already had a good knowledge of Dada, however this lecture taught me more. It was a shame that we didn’t go though Constructivism because that interests me, hopefully we will do so next session.