Where Do Posters Come From? A blog about the history of posters.

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We are always looking to the past to find out what we can learn from it. A lot of what we think we can learn is wrong – let’s call this “history” – but some of it is right – let’s call this “insight.”

What do you see when you look at a poster? What are you thinking? Do you think the poster was made to decorate the wall of your room, or the office of your boss, or the cafeteria of your university? If so, you’re not alone. Lots of people have thought that. But in fact that isn’t where posters come from. They come from the street.

Telling people about history and insight is a full time job for thousands of people who work for museums, historical societies, archives and universities. Some write books and articles; some have blogs. The best thing about them is that they are free, so anyone can use them to help understand more about posters. Doing that will make it easier to decide whether a poster has value, or just decoration.

Where do posters come from? If you ask the average person who loves posters, they will probably say that they are created by street artists who live in the heart of a city.

Smug as we are for passing off this answer, it is not entirely accurate. Most of the artists that one sees on the streets, who have been called “posters” for lack of a better term, are not actually creating posters but rather are wheatpasting posters that have been printed elsewhere onto the walls and street corners of our cities.

The true story is similar to that of graffiti; it is a unique mixture of art and crime. While there are some artists who create and print their own poster art in small quantities, there is also a network of people who specialize in creating these works. The majority of these people were once graffiti artists seeking an outlet for their work after being shut down. As this happened in America, many moved to Europe where they found an even more accepting culture for graffiti art- especially as it related to advertising and commerce.

In recent years this market has grown to include new collectors from all over the world looking for unique works from these underground artists. It has also grown to include new styles and techniques such as silk-screening, stenciling

Posters are a great subject for blogging. They come from a long tradition of artists thinking the library or the museum was an excellent place to show their work, and make money from it. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Renaissance, when printers started producing portfolios of prints for sale to collectors.

The blog is written by John Walsh, who is both an art historian and a publisher. He posts every week or so with new discoveries—how this poster was made, what it says about its time, why it was forgotten. Or he tells us about a dust-up in the art world—like when he found out that Picasso had taken credit for another artist’s poster design in the 1920s.

The art itself is always beautiful, often surprising, sometimes absurd—the best kind of art.

I have often been asked where posters come from, and why it is that they are not always as good as they could be.

It’s a reasonable question, but it has a complex answer. The first thing to say is that posters don’t just spring full-blown into the world fully formed. They are usually the result of a long process – try Googling “poster design process” for some idea of how many steps there are – and, even in the best case, arrive late. Sometimes too late: in my experience, when a poster is needed urgently, as for an exhibition or an event, it can be tempting to skip some of those steps. That’s OK if you know what you’re doing – but often you don’t.

The usual story goes something like this: A creative team (copywriter and art director) get together and spend ages brainstorming ideas before settling on one they like. Then they do some kind of mood board to show what the poster will look like – sometimes this is done by the client if they insist – before getting on with designing the poster itself. Then they have another meeting with the client, who then insists on lots more changes and everyone gets frustrated. Finally it’s done and everyone is exhausted.*


Poster art is a pretty big thing. It’s hard to know exactly how big, because some posters are never catalogued (and often not even categorized). And because every different size and style of poster, from tiny handbills to huge billboards, all are called “posters,” we don’t even have a good grasp on what all the different kinds of posters there are. So it is a little hard to say how many posters there are in the world, and a lot more hard to say how many great ones there are.

Still, I think it’s safe to say that posters have been around almost as long as printing has, and probably much longer than that. Paintings were done on walls before they were done on paper or canvas or anything else. The oldest surviving oil painting is 4000 years old. The oldest surviving silk scroll painting is 7000 years old. And the oldest surviving painted scrolls are 10000 years old.

And there’s no reason to doubt that people were trying out all sorts of other techniques too, including paint on cloth (which if you think about it is just paint on tensile fabric) and paint on stone (which if you think about it is just paint on lithic fabric) and paint on trees and rocks and whatever else was handy

The first American posters appeared in 1835 as a result of an import tax on prints. The idea was to create a market for American-made art, but that never really happened; more often than not, the tax was evaded by sending prints to Europe and then back to America. Posters remained expensive luxuries until the 1890s, when improved printing technology allowed them to be made cheaply enough for them to be used for advertising.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha are among the artists who changed poster design. By 1900, posters were mass produced with lithography and color printing. This made it possible to produce thousands of identical copies of the same poster, so they could be mass distributed across major cities on billboards and kiosks. During World War I, France became a center for poster production, with artists such as Jules Cheret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard and Georges de Feure. After the war, commercial art continued its rise in popularity in France and spread to the US as well.

American advertising techniques used in World War II were adopted by European countries after the war ended: outdoor boards with images of people eating or dancing appealed to people weary of war and hungry again. Eventually

The poster is arguably one of the most influential and iconic art forms of the 20th century.

The origins of the poster are said to have begun in Paris, France around the year 1867, when Jules Chéret invented a lithographic printing process for billboards and posters.

Within a decade, Posters had become an integral part of everyday life, advertising everything from entertainment to political propaganda.

Posters have evolved from simply being printed pieces of paper that were intended to be viewed by thousands; they are now seen as works of art that reflect a nation and its culture.

However, it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that artists began creating posters as fine art and not just commercial pieces.

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