Graphis on Polish posters

A piece on Polish posters from an old issue of Graphis, published sometime in the 1960s/1970s:

“All styles and trends are subject to certain laws. What was initially new and creative gradually loses its originality as it comes into wider use. Forms that were once simple become more complex and sometimes even degenerate into a baroque exuberance.

In the last few years this fate has begun to overtake the Polish school of poster art. Painterly élan was once most effective on walls and hoardings, since the poster that displayed it was surrounded by other posters mostly restricted to the dry and factual approach. The two were complementary. Today similar posters hang beside each other.

The generalisation of a style is a danger in an art form like the poster, which depends entirely on its direct impact in the street scene. This is particularly true in Poland, where the small poster, displayed on fences and occasional walls, has to hold its own in an obtrusive environment. A design which might be an ornament for the ‘school’ is not always very well qualified to perform the practical function of the poster.

It therefore seems probable that an analysis of the true function of the poster and the search for new techniques will lead in the not-so-distant future to new metamorphoses in the Polish school of poster art.

The numerical predominance of the theatre and film poster in Poland is, however, not the only difference. The function of the cultural poster is also far removed from that of Western advertising. Paradoxical as it may sound, the Polish poster does not attempt to convince or entice the theatre or film public. This is apparent not only from the treatment of the posters themselves but also from the commentaries of their designers. Thus one of the most prominent film poster artists, Jan Lenica, tells us: ‘I have not met anybody up to date who went to see a film merely on the strength of a film poster. It is therefore pointless to demand that a film poster should affect box-office returns.’

Now if a film poster does not affect box-office returns, we are justified in enquiring into its raison d’être. To this Lenica replies: ‘The poster only announces a film, it informs the public about its character and atmosphere, in a word it is a visual synopsis of the essential nature of the film.’

This view of the character and purpose of the film poster and thus of by far the most important poster category in Poland) has very little in common with our own standpoint, but agrees very well with the Western attitude to the book jacket or record sleeve: in these too the intention is less to advertise and sell than to communicate character and atmosphere by the media of graphic art.

— (via)