The Art of War: Posters, Photographs and Postcards of World War I

- Olliff, Marty
This presentation examines the phenomenon of visual war propaganda produced not only by a belligerent government but by commercial entities and the citizenry itself, focusing on World War I America. Once the United States entered World War I, thousands of first-rate posters flowed from the workshops of the Committee on Public Information (CPI), the propaganda arm of Woodrow Wilson’s war bureaucracy.

These successfully energized Americans to support mobilization. But it took more than posters on walls to keep Americans’ commitment to the war from flagging. The postcard trade had commercialized sufficiently to become a significant industry that brought the victorious and glorious part of warfare close to home—a viewer could look at these at home and be reminded of the reasons for their own sacrifice—without showing war’s horrors.

Private photographs also played a propaganda role. Technology had advanced to allow service portraits to become part of every soldier’s life, as well as to allow soldiers and their families to snap photos at home. Both formal portraits and snapshots are vernacular art, taken by ordinary people for their own reasons, but just as effective in sustaining mobilization as the CPI posters and commercial postcards.

Projection screen extension cord needed; microphone needed for large venues.