By Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chairman of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts. (Full biography.)
In the past, artists and designers occasionally contributed their own images to a candidate’s campaign as a sign of solidarity or as an alternative to the mundane election fare. But never, as far as I can tell, in the history of presidential campaigns has such a huge outpouring of independent posters been created for a single candidate. This election’s poster child is definitely Barack Obama.
What started with Shepard Fairey’s now famous social realist poster, has exploded not only into variations on that original design (including some biting oppositional parodies), but hundreds of missives, many displayed on Web sites (and free for downloading) like designforobama.org, which collects and aggregates dozens of posters from around the country, most by artists with web-pseudonyms, and 30reasons.org, which has been offering users one downloadable poster a day since Oct. 5 until Election Day, Nov. 4, created by known and unknown graphic designers. In addition, more specialized sites like yeswecarve.com provides a forum for “featured pumpkins” carved with Mr. Obama’s likenesses and slogans. And spellingchange.com enables users to literally spell “change” or any other Obama slogan by using bizarre, digital alphabets, some made from people.
So why have so many designers produced so much material? How high or low is the quality? And what is the cumulative effect?
Designers speak best when they are designing, and posters have long been the medium of choice for most designers, as explained in this statement of purpose for designforobama.org:
It is in this spirit Design/ers for Obama was created. With the goal of supporting Barack Obama’s campaign for presidency, Design/ers for Obama will introduce new tools and opportunities to web-powered grass roots organizing that has already revolutionized campaigning. Design/ers for Obama is a community for Obama supporters, whether visually inclined or not.
Not all designers support Mr. Obama, but those who do are making certain their voices are seen.
The second question begs another question. What is an engaging poster? Sophisticated, colorful, dynamic are all ways defining effective design. Clever is also an important attribute. While many of the posters on designforobama.org are a little strained, some are clever for different reasons — “I Want O and a plumber (plumber is crossed out) V.P. named Joe” by Rdebris is astute parody of James Montgomery Flagg’s famous Uncle Sam poster and “I’m Voting for ‘That One’” by Dcredeur, was inspired by John McCain’s comment during the second debate.
Another antidote to “That One,” features the phrase, “That Won”; yet despite the attempt at irony, the composition lies flat. In fact, a good many of these posters, most featuring smiling, romantic or heroic images of Mr. Obama, fail to add anything new to the visual vocabulary of the campaign. In fact, some are quite clichéd like “Change We Need McCain Can’t Provide” by shootingasterisk, which superimposes an American flag on a photo of the candidate giving a speech.
The Web site 30reasons.org has more visually stimulating posters that are conceptually more ambitious. Chaz Maviyane-Davies’s image of someone (the electorate) shooting themselves in the foot under the dates “2000, 2004, 2008?” and Luba Lukova’s “Health Coverage” showing the skeleton of an umbrella, the protective covering gone, with a caduceus as the handle are memorable. Larkin Werner’s McCain as a jack-in-the-box collage with his statements on the health of the economy is also more striking for its adversarial tone.
So, do these posters have any impact on voters? Not the specific images or messages but cumulatively they are a grassroots effort that excite through the show of collective support. What’s more, posters often appeal to personal needs and emotions, not all rouse in the same way for everyone. Having many options allows partisans to engage as they choose. This show of support goes in the plus column for Barack Obama.Original article here