The Art of Perseverance

Posters in frames are reference images of historical Polish posters gathered from the National Museum in Warsaw

How the story of the Polish Poster can inspire hope during the pandemic.

Director, Writer, and Graphic Illustrator: Orion Bibee

Towards the end of World War II, Poland came under the rule of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was rebranded as The Polish People’s Republic. Up until the late ’40s, poster design had already been an established medium for Polish artists; but it wasn’t until this change in government that Polish designers began to use posters as a form of communication and expression. Henryk Tomaszewski, deemed “the father” of the Polish School of Posters, began working closely with the National Film Institute in Warsaw, designing foreign film posters to make them more accessible for Polish-speaking people. What started as a smaller collaboration blossomed into a movement that had widespread influence on not only poster design, but on the art world as a whole.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Polish Posters served as an underlying rally cry and gave hope to an oppressed public. The designers often used symbolism and subtle metaphors in their work to reflect the state of Communism in which they were living. While many of these designers came from graphic design backgrounds, artists of all mediums were able to contribute their own aesthetics to the movement. The use of bright colors, combinations of collage and paint strokes, created the often allegorical imagery that brought life to the streets of Poland. This made the posters hanging on the streets all the more inspiring and meaningful to the Polish people.

Earlier this term, I had the opportunity to interview the professor who brought this art form and its history to the students at Oregon State University. Andrea Marks, professor of design and program director of the Design and Innovation Management major at OSU, described how the art world tends to react to hard times; as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired creativity. For example, people are taking the time to learn new skills, to connect with each other while social distancing, or as she points out, “scientists across the globe [are] coming together so quickly, to try and make a vaccine–that’s creativity unto itself.” Not only is Marks something of an expert when it comes to Polish posters, but she has also been in the game long enough to expect great things after troubling times. 

American designers often worked directly for clients, and Marks notes that “sometimes your hands are tied to some degree as a designer, or illustrator when there’s profit on the line, in terms of how much freedom you can have with your idea, but there was no money on the line in Poland.” To circumvent the Soviet censorship board, the Polish designers used metaphors within their designs freely, and successfully. In the midst of extremely hard times, the expression of these ideas became an international movement that still remains influential to this day.

As countries around the world fight this pandemic, people will continue to innovate, support each other, and create new and exciting things. The Polish Poster is an example of how this has been done in the past—how adversity can lead to amazing creativity. This DAMchic magazine issue you are currently holding in your hands is an example of how this is being done during the pandemic, and YOU are the key to continuing this pattern of perseverance and creativity. Whether it’s through personal growth, complimenting someone, or going as far as creating a new innovation or art movement, we all have a part to play.


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