The Art of the Poster

James Hagan, Staff Writer

As a culture, we are addicted to images. As a school, we are addicted to posters. This is a common phenomenon on many campuses, this particular vehemence with which we revere postering.

In Wilder, we make a habit of immortalizing posters in clean frames, on those new flat televisions, and almost every student with a pulse has taken a favorite poster back to his or her room.

This is not even mentioning the scale and effort of the posters. The number of silk-screened and particularly large items is astounding — the walls are often not big enough to hold them all.

The end of the semester is prime time to go poster touring. There is a litany of solo student concerts, art shows and dance performances, each one trying to get its name out there with a more spectacular poster than the last. On top of that, there are hundreds of forums and lectures slated.

One of the most striking examples is the “D.R.E.A.M. Act Week” poster. Advertising for a series of films, lectures and discussions about the status of undocumented work- ers in the United States, the poster is itself designed to look like a legal document of residency and is composed of shiny gold that creates a jarring contrast with the gloomy subject matter being advertised.

To me, the dynamic between form and content is one of the most complicated aspects of poster-making. The subject matter must always predate the form — the poster really only exists because of the message it was commissioned to portray. This creates a whole different set of questions for an artist to deal with. He or she must be one part advertiser and another part image-maker.

College senior Asa Ivry-Block, who printed 78 posters last year, weighed in on the topic. “Postering is the synthesis between design and art,” he said. “There is a balance that must be reached between getting the information across while still creating a visually driving image.”

Ryan Packard, a junior percussion major, encountered this conflict firsthand while attempting to make a poster for his solo show this Saturday. The picture Packard wanted to use for his show initially drew a sharp negative reaction within his department in the Conservatory.

It depicted Conservatory junior Kate Ettinger licking red corn syrup (which looked quite a lot like blood) that was dripping from a bandage over her eyes. Packard felt that the response was largely due to the disgust that the image created. By appearing grotesque and violent, it detracted from Packard’s concept.

“It really had nothing to do with my show,” he said. However, with a minor alteration in form — the red was changed to green — the true absurdity and candy-like extravagance of the picture began to vibe with Packard’s project.

Sometimes the play between form and content looks effortlessly constructed, as in the posters for “Palestine 101”. Here, the image of a young Palestinian woman with her fist in the air — a gesture commonly associated with black power — references the American civil rights movement. By doing so, the poster seeks to associate the controversial subject of the liberation of the Palestinian people with the universal symbol of freedom and justice.

The obsession with postering on campus has a lot to do with the art department. Ivry-Block points out that studio art professor John Pearson’s Visual Concepts and Processes: Silkscreen class is required to make a run of 50 posters. The overwhelming number of large, high-quality posters reflects the large number of artists who engage in the practice of silkscreening. While not everyone continues, many students never look back.

As digital media continues to consume newspapers, magazines and even books, student advertising at Oberlin has remained physical. In practice, a poster is less intrusive and yet more pervasive than say, Facebook events — where the very conscious confirm/ignore decision must be made. Perhaps our fascination even reflects an affec- tion for material communication.

Ivry-Block offered a straightforward and more likely rationale for the prominence of posters at Oberlin.

“Posters are a tangible art form that help us remember past events,” he remarked. “Having one in your room has three advantages. One, you have a tight piece of art; two, you remember the sick time you had at the show; while three, showin’ bitches how cool you are.”