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A Short History of Posters

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Posters | A Short History of Posters!

Each year, since the beginning of the La Quinta Arts Festival in 1982, a poster featuring an artist’s work has been designed to commemorate this special event. In light of the upcoming Festival, I had a quick peek at the history of this formidable art form. When done well, regardless of its purpose, the poster creates excitement and a visual stronghold for the viewer; it entices, commemorates the event or purpose and enters the collective memory. Who doesn’t remember the Uncle Sam “I Want You” poster enlisting young men to join the army?

The poster has been used as a method of communication and advertisement since the early 1800’s with the invention of lithography. Though not perfected until the mid-century, this allowed for cheap mass production and thus allowed for news to travel fast. Broadsheets were tacked to the public walls, proclaiming, exclaiming and letting the viewers know the news. It became more commonplace to incorporate art into the poster in order to be visually striking and standout among the already forming poster-crowd. They were used to announce anything from events, such as theater shows, music, circus and dances as well as commercial items, such as bicycles, cigarettes, tonics and fashion stores. Around World War I and II, they became political tools to campaign and broadcast propaganda. Posters announced and instilled in people’s mind the possibilities of travel by showcasing travel destinations, and railways used these to announce their schedules and destinations in a creative way. More recently, there are the ubiquitous movie posters. 

Typography became more important as posters started becoming visually louder and more colorful and were used as advertisements. The font needed to stand out. At first, the poster makers were limited to metal plates, which were small and heavy. The new wooden blocks were light and the size of the type increased dramatically allowing for more freedom.

Notably, in France during the 1880’s and 1890’s, “L’Affichomanie’ hit the streets: the poster craze. The posters were viewed as public works of art and “the colorful, large billboards were euphorically greeted as “Art of the Street” and as such suited to raise the art appreciation of the masses”.  These posters were more elaborate, detailed, rife with symbolism, and in effect, fine art. Drawing poster art was not only a challenge but it became a way for artists to “gain broader public recognition”. A major exhibition was held showcasing posters in Paris in 1884. The artwork of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Jules Cheret remains well-known and popular. After the Art Nouveau movement came to an end, symbolic, ornamental and elaborate drawings became less prominent and the poster began to focus more on the product. Simple, flat designs, bold typeface and block colors became the mainstay of the designer, though humor was without a doubt sometimes part of the campaign.  It was during this time that being a ‘poster designer’ became a legitimate profession.

“While its artistic dynamism and commercial function have declined, the poster remains an important cultural medium that allows broad visual expression of ideas and beliefs, both political and individual. Posters engage the world and function as social and artistic barometers in every-day cultural, economic and political issues.” 

The La Quinta Arts Festival is looking forward to unveiling the poster for this year’s festival, which will showcase the work of Teresa Saia of Washington, one of the three 2014 featured La Quinta Arts Festival artists. The unveiled poster can be viewed at:

Rabobank from January 27th onwards at 51-290 Avenida Bermudas, La Quinta, CA 92253 during open hours.  

Better yet, you have the opportunity of viewing Teresa Saia’s original pastel painting used for the poster image by attending the #1 in the nation ranked La Quinta Arts Festival, March 6-9, 2014 – and rest assured you will be able to buy this wonderful poster for your very own.