Art as a Hammer

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This post is also long overdue so do forgive its length.

First off, I believe some introductions are in order.

I’m Karina Puttieva – a freshly minted Haverford grad who majored in English, concentrated in gender and sexuality studies, and minored in German. Some things about me:

  • Russian is my first language
  • I’m a coffee snob and only drink it black
  • I make lists and daily schedules like it’s my job
  • I think beets are delicious
  • I have a crippling fear of being tickled
  • I love Ultimate Frisbee
  • I get really excited when I hear people speaking German
  • I think these are the best earrings ever. ever.

Now that we got that out of the way, I ought to explain the title of this post.

One of theĀ  mounted posters at CSPG proclaims proudly that “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.” (It attributes the quote to Brecht, which I’m pretty sure is right, though there are other sources that claim it’s Mayakovsky’s. But I digress.) Trite as it sounds, having worked at the center for about two weeks now, I’ve realized that that description is pretty much dead on. The center is a giant (huge) archive of political posters from every corner of the world, in just about every language, on every political issue imaginable.

But when it comes down to it, it is art. They are all pieces of art, much more so than pieces of propaganda or advertisements or leaflets calling for solidarity. The focus of what Kyle and I will be looking into is how political movements are depicted by established graphic artists and cartoonists, the techniques they use to make the shift from art to politicized art.

These couple of weeks at the CSPG I spent most of my time getting to know and mastering the archiving database system (Mimzy XG). I picked up some basics: how to properly handle and measure fragile materials and catalog them accordingly, consolidating folders of extra versions of certain posters so that they could be set aside to be sold or traded, spending some quality time with Photoshop and cropping images of posters to get them ready for digitization. Not mind-blowing work, but relevant insofar that the research that we’ll be starting on next week (!!!) cannot really be done unless you know your way around the archive and how to look for the right thing to begin with.

Thus far, I’ve seen a large amount of various styles and appropriations of familiar images in many different languages. Something that stood out was the variation in the balance between the amount of text and image on a particular poster; that is, how a given message changed depending on whether it was text-based or if it was primarily illustrated.

So that’s something to keep a close eye on.

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