Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Art of (Spinning) War

I'm on vacation for a few days, and this evening I was at my local Borders Bookstore, browsing the bookshelves and working on an upcoming article about barriers to innovation.

I'm extremely interested in early and mid-20th century graphic design, illustration, and propaganda of technology and industrial society. Long before the advent of global communications networks, blogs, and limitless viewpoints of any human event, pictures were truly the most efficient form of communication. They had to be worth a thousand words or more to get their points across. During times of conflict, posters were critical tools of governments (and their opposition) to communicate social, political, and cultural arguements using iconic imagery and visual metaphor to sway the opinions of millions.

The Imperial War Museum in London has recently opened an exhibit of war posters spanning nearly 90 years. "Weapons of Mass Communication" showcases one of the finest collections of coercive art in the world. (The exhibition runs through March of 2008.) While browsing the art history section at Borders, I spotted the book of the exhibition which features over 300 of the posters and many of their back stories. I have been unable to put this book down.

James Aulich, of the Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design, has assembled in this book, an incredible collection of war poster art. His research and commentary detail the battles waged for the hearts and minds of World War I, Interwar Europe, World War II, the Cold War and contemporary generations upto and including the current Iraq conflict.

One of the images from the exhibit is particularly striking. In 1917, Henri Montassier created this image for a proclaimation that France had "discovered the machine to end the war". The imagery depicts the scale of casualties already suffered which weighed heavily on many nations of Europe. The machine imagery is not a vision of contemporary armaments, but is instead akin to the Martian war machines described in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, published only 20 years prior.

If you have an opportunity to see the exhibit first hand, or spend an afternoon with the book, I would highly recommend it. Whether your appreciation is for vintage art styles and techniques of eras gone by, or looking through a window in time on a variety of societal levels, I think you'll find the experience rather captivating.

No comments: