This lesson will explore the historical context of the poster as a mass-produced medium in visual art at the turn of the twentieth century.
Description: Posters, according to the French historian Max Gallo*, "...channel our dreams, excite our desires... and secretly appeal to weak spots of which we ourselves are not aware." He continues: "An essential lesson of the poster is not its overt message but [how] the way it is put together tells [us] about society." Since the production of posters began in Europe, during the late 18th century and early 19th century, they have become an essetnial - arguably ubiquitous - part of the everyday visual landscape. As mass-produced images intended for large scale public consumption, posters heralded a medium of graphic arts that utilize bold two-dimensional designs in the service of selling ideas, produts, events and more.
At the turn of the 20th century, with the First World War looming over many peoples' lives, posters were deployed to great effect by governments as documented by the upcoming MFA exhibit Over There! Posters from World War I. This lesson will explore both World War I posters on display in the exhibit, as well as other contemporary examples of graphic arts, in order to understand the significance of these mass-produced images and their impact on popular culture into the present day.
This lesson will help demonstrate how posters communicate both an overt message in their content as well as covert messages about the societies that produce them; an exercise that continues to this day as posters and graphic arts have transitioned into digital visual mediums.
Learning Goals: By exploring this lesson, students will...
- Learn how posters were deployed as a form of mass-media to persuade populations towards various pro-war efforts initiated by countries.
- Understand how posters in non-wartime contexts deployed similar persuasive tools both visually and textually.
- Gain a foundational understanding of artists/illustrators at the turn of the century who worked in the growing medium of posters/graphic arts.
This discovery will require students to...
- Engage in critical visual and textual analysis of the posters presented.
- Study examples of posters, and their implications, in depth and then produce a persuasive poster via the related resources.
Using this Resource:
- English/language arts teachers and their students will be interested in studying the persuasive language used on the posters and its implications with influencing audiences towards pro-war causes.
-History teachers and their students will be interested in learning how these mass-produced images were utilized by governments, and their military administrations, to draw recruits for armies, have civilians conserve resources and lend money towards war efforts, as well as develop affection towards allied countries on one hand and animosity towards enemy countries on the other.
-Visual arts teachers and their students will be interested in the aesthetic and compositional elements deployed by early 20th century artists (and illustrators) in order to produce compelling images with a bold, immediate, effect for viewers. Moreover teachers and students will be interested in discovering the nuanced sociological ideas/norms communicated in such images that appear unambiguous and direct at first glance.
For an interactive timeline of World War I, supplementary classroom activities, and other material, refer to the links and downloadable PDFs under Related Resources at the bottom of this page. The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web source - or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries - to look for other objects that will provide further insight into both World War I posters and other graphic arts.
*Gallo, Max. The Poster in History, Trans. Alfred and Bruni Mayor, Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1974; W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. pp. 9-10