Although lithography was invented in 1798, it was at first too slow and expensive for
poster production. Most posters were woodblocks or metal engravings with little color or
design. This all changed with Cheret’s "three stone lithographic process," a breakthrough
which allowed artists to achieve every color in the spectrum with as little as three stones -
red, yellow and blue - printed in careful registration.
Although the process was difficult, the result was a remarkable intensity of color
and texture, with sublime transparencies and nuances impossible in other media (even to
this day). This ability to combine word and image in such an attractive and economical
format finally made the lithographic poster a powerful innovation. Starting in the 1870s
in Paris, it became the dominant means of mass communication in the rapidly growing
cities of Europe and America.
In France especially, as the industrial age grew, the average person had more time
for themselves. They became better educated. They were becoming readers, theater goers,
music and art lovers. It seems as though the French developed a keener sense of art and
style, ahead of everyone else. Paris became the center for culture and artistic excellence,
during this period
These were changing times. The middle class started to have access to consumer
goods. This new consumer-oriented economy created a need for a medium to reach the
masses of people with product information. The poster filled this need. To reach the
people they had to be loud, colorful, easy to read and easy to understand. More
importantly they had to be inexpensive as they only lasted for such a short period of time.
Jules Cheret pioneered color lithography as an economical means of advertising.
His innovations with color and shading produced images that convey their message in a
matter of seconds while still proving interesting more than one hundred years later with
complex and subtle color harmonies. More than any other artist, Cheret gives us a vision
of Paris in the 1890's: an outdoor café society leisurely strolling the boulevards on a
Sunday afternoon. This represents an idealized fantasy, devoid of poverty, class struggle,
Classic posters, are examples of great advertising, combining esthetics with direct
communication resulting in a message with resonance. In advertising, you can only sell
two things: a product that fulfills a need or artificially creates good feelings. These
posters are the epitome of feel-good art and that is what gives them their compelling
appeal. One of the main reason posters are so valuable, is because they show the changes
in society, as well as the society itself.
Whether or not the poster is designed by a "recognized" artist, when it has
aesthetic qualities or particular merit, the poster can change its status from being the
means of a common advertisement, it can become a work of art in its own right. So for a
good number of them, the border between advertising medium and work of fine art
becomes very blurred.
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