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Design for Victory: World War II Poster on the American Home Front Paperback – August 1, 1998
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In this fascinating account of new previously unreported information on the commission of American posters during World War II, the authors vividly present quotes revealing the goals and methods applied to pictorial standards. With new insights familiar posters come alive again as the strategies for their design are discussed and assesed in an up to date historical perspective. This book will be invaluable to all those interested in the World War II studies and graphic design. Therese Thau Heyman
Design for Victory is a magnificant visual experience that captures America's ideological and cultural transformation during the nation's most popular 20th century war. Harry Rubenstein and William Bird have not only assembled a stunning set of images, but these two fine historians have also uncovered a set of class and gender transcripts that give unexpected tension to so many of these patriotic, productionist drawings and slogans. This poster book has punch! Nelson Lichtenstein, University of Virginia, author of Labor's War at Home: the CIO in World War II.
About the Author
William L. Bird, Jr. and Harry R. Rubenstein are curators at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which houses this collection.
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I found this book interesting on two interrelated levels. First, the artwork itself - but, second, the use of largely simple, straightforward language and visuals to convey the government's "message" to a mass audience. When you realize these posters, etc., had to speak to the widest possible audience, from the uneducated to the college crowd, I think the work done by the artists and advertising folks (many of whom were "drafted" into the cause) is quite impressive.
I enjoyed this book from a historical perspective, as well as from a design persective - if you want inspiration for a retro-looking poster, you could do a lot worse that use some of these posters as inspiration.
That simple question, asked in a popular WWII, finger-pointing poster, captures the patriotic spirit that pervaded America.
Posters, according to the authors, deserve credit as "the ideal agent for making war aims the personal mission of every citizen." Further, "Poster campaigns aimed not only to increase productivity in factories, but to enlarge people's views of their wartime responsibilities." Rockwell's enduring classic images, The Four Freedoms, illuminate this ideological trend.
How did wartime posters inspire military recruits, help increase domestic production, and sell war bonds during WWII? What were the different strategies used by government agencies to promote American ideals, self sacrifice, and gas rationing to a scared and confused public? Which advertising methods and artistic techniques worked best? Why?
This concise, colorful guide examines the power, poetry, and politics of American WWII posters in five thematic chapters. Delving beneath the surface of over 150 colorful posters, the authors showcase and analysis the zig-zag evolution of wartime posters.
Personally, I found chapter three (Art, Advertising, and Audience) to be a fascinating summary of vigorous debate among message makers. How should the war effort be framed? Is it a struggle for truth and democracy against terror and fascism? Is it a battle for survival? Should the focus be on personal fears, national achievements, or heroic freedom fighting?
George Gallup, later of pollster fame, urged posters be designed to appeal to "the lower third" of the population. Other analysts warned that the Office Of Facts and Figures early communication efforts were too abstract and contained too much information. "It would be wonderful indeed if the psychological war could be fought on an intellectual basis," warned two critics "if the American people who will win or lose this war were so educated and conditioned that we could bring them understanding on the terms we all prefer. But, through no fault of ours, they unfortunately are so educated. And in pitting the strategy of truth against the strategy of terror, we cannot stop to educate - we must win a war. We must state the truth in terms that will be understood by all levels of intelligence. Further, we must dramatize the truth." Powerful images soon replaced statistics in posters.
The considerable efforts to coordinate wartime messages across departments also generated vigorous debate. Eventually, the newly formed Office of Wartime Information identified six basic propaganda themes for general information programs: The nature of the Enemy; the nature of our Allies; the need to work; the need to fight; the need to sacrifice; and Americans and our ideals.
This visually appealing book also carefully examines the proliferation of wartime posters, full of patriotic messages, created by non-profit organizations, unions, and corporations. The last chapter, Postwar Aims and Private Aspirations, focuses on the impact of Sheldon-Claire company posters celebrating the middle class home, the traditional nuclear family, consumerism, and free enterprise. It also features a haunting gas mask poster produced and distributed by Kroger Grocery store chain.
The epilogue, the weakest section by far, argues that the change in postwar workplace posters reflected a more condescending air toward workers, explicit anti-union messages, and the renewnal of industrial conflict between management and labor. This thin section seems both out-of-place and a disjointed conclusion.
Design for Victory, despite this somewhat weak ending, should satisfy the curiousities of graphic designers, artists, historians, and scholars interested in advertising methods and persuasive communication.