Are posters still relevant? Or is their time already past and they are just dying out in a nature preserve settled by artists, for whom the poster is only a means of personal exhibitionism; collectors, who cannot afford Picasso; or exhibition organizers, who hold a protective hand over the preserve? Today many specialists who devote themselves to the field of visual communication doubt the capacity of posters to serve as a full-fledged medium of communication. Now we will try to cast doubt upon these opinions, even if we have to correct the “established“ understanding of poster art.
Paradoxically, history can enlighten us regarding the current status of posters and their likely direction. Posters, in today’s more specified definition, have legitimate ancestors. Their predecessors connected words and pictures to deliver various public announcements. Ways of sharing news via these script-pictures were influenced by changes in the spiritual world of people, the world of their material wants, and, most importantly, they were shaped by the technical capabilities of visual communication. Even the law-books of Chammurapi were, in a way, a form of poster, connecting pictures and text, engraved in stone and placed in a public space. Public announcements scribbled in special places in ancient Greece and Rome come closer to today’s understanding of the poster; there also is where the first professional poster-artists were born. The conventional image of poster art owes much to its mechanical reproduction – the first posters of this kind (or at least similar) appeared in the 15th century, made possible by the printing press in combination with woodcarving. But only the invention of lithography in the early years of the industrial revolution brought us to our current understanding of posters as a synthetic and simple fusion of text and picture. In addition, poster creators not only used the capabilities of this new reproduction technique but because of it they were also able to meet the significant demands placed upon them by the changing material and spiritual world of the industrial era.
The 20th century provided other technical innovations, which together with wider social movements occurring at the time, assisted in transforming the poster medium. Revolutionary changes – similar to those that took place with the introduction of the printing press and later lithography – and evolutionary shifts, characteristic of the development of the poster in the last two centuries, are simultaneously taking place due to the recent drastic changes in information exchange.
Regarding the evolutionary shifts in poster art we can consider, on the one hand, the increase in the size of posters (no doubt billboards and big-boards belong to the poster family, although they used to be placed into a separate category of media), but, on the other hand, traditional posters, in their more specified definition, are decreasing in size. They lose, in the increasing visual volume, their character of “public matter“ and posters become (due to the atomization of a society that no longer respects universal ideas, etc) a messenger of specific information for a more narrow circle of recipients. And in many cases, posters are even the completely private confessions of a person who is not necessarily a professional artist. Posters disturb rules about effect on the viewers, conventional formats, reproduction techniques. The possibilities for the self-renewal of posters as common, public and quickly readable announcements which utilize the potential of the mutual synthetic reaction of word and picture will probably depend on revolutionary changes which will take into account the new demands and capabilities connected with current state of civilization. The appeal is once again in the new capabilities of communication technology. For ever increasing numbers of people, the street is ceasing to be a public space and the computer network is taking its place. Now is probably the time to accept the Internet, which is more sensitive to our contemporary reality, as the “bulletin board“ for posters.
Posters (though for the orthodox camp they will probably be only something poster-like) certainly will not die out in the future, so we do not need to be sorrowful over their departure. Poster art will only be looking for the means of expression suitable for the times, as it was in history, both ancient and recent. This year, the fourth Trnava Poster Triennial has the ambition, along with displaying the recent evolution of poster art, to sketch ways of revolutionizing the poster medium. The Triennial should pursuade visitors to the innovative exhibition spaces that poster “clasique“ have not said the last word yet, and that the medium is developing in different directions and it has the potential to deliver new messages. At the same time, the Triennial would like to open doors to the future – through a category of student posters (which has been exclusive to the Triennial from the early years) and a workshop exploring technical possibilities and the basic sense and meaning of posters in the widest range.
TPT 2000 curator