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Art of the Campaign: The Politics of Color Theory

Art of the Campaign: The Politics of Color Theory

Did you know that a
2012 Google study found that within 150th of a
second, you will judge whether a website is good? And that is crazy. Imagine if you had to
create an advertisement that grabs people’s
attention, tells a story, shows that you can
relate to them, and convinces them to stand
with you without saying a word. That is what a
political campaign poster is supposed to do. Political posters are nothing
more than propaganda art. Propaganda is simply
the deliberate spreading of
information and ideas to help a movement,
institution, or nation. This idea goes way back
to 192 AD in ancient Rome. Considering the scope and
size of the Roman Empire, transmitting information
was incredibly difficult. So how could you
communicate with people on a daily basis
who were often days away from the capital in Rome? What would people have
on them all the time? That’s right– money. As you might already
know, the rulers of Rome seem to never be in short
supply of self esteem. So it comes as no surprise
that Julius Caesar was the first to put his
face on the Roman coin. Of course, designs
were often made to give the emperor a more
godlike image since they love to associate
themselves with mythology. The greatest example just
might be emperor Commodus. In 192, he issues
a series of coins to be made with his head adorned
with the lion skin on top. I wonder if this might be
like the first Halloween costume or something? Inscribed on the back
was this, which means “to the August Roman Herculee.” Yeah, Commodus
considered himself a descendant of Hercules. You know, just Hercules. Nothing too big. Putting aside the crazy, this
was an incredibly effective way to communicate a story
to the masses, which was don’t mess with Commodus. It’s no surprise then
that political posters adorn images of the
candidates explaining their story to the masses and
often with a picture of them on it. Storytelling, or narrative
art, is a powerful tool, but incredibly
difficult to master. The first distributed poster was
created for John Quincy Adams, who was the first
presidential candidate to widely use posters in 1824. Check out this campaign poster
for William McKinley in 1890. Simplicity is definitely
not the goal here. Let’s break down this image. McKinley, at this
time, believed he could pull the country
out of a depression by standing on a platform
of sound money, which he called the gold standard. Businessmen and laborers hold
up this massive gold coin, which definitely makes a statement. And of course, at
the center of it all, you have McKinley holding
the iconic American flag. [FIREWORKS] My favorite is the
sunrays in the background, which convey optimism. And by the way, yellow
is psychologically the happiest color in
the color spectrum. Not every candidate in
the 1800s got this right. Check out this poster for
William Jennings Bryan. Holy cow. Someone went a little
overboard with this design. In fact, this poster has an
entire speech of Bryan on it. You need a magnifying
glass to even read it. Combine this with the
pictures, lots of colors, and you have a
marketing nightmare. But I get it. Bryan had one chance
to connect with people, so he decided to go with
more is better idea. But things were
about to change– not just in political art,
but in society as well. The political poster
became less of a newspaper and more of an advertisement. Take a look at this William
H. Taft poster in comparison of Bryan’s. Taft’s is definitely more
of imagery than text. From an artist’s
point of view, Taft is right in the middle
of the focal point, with the red, white, and blue
colors framing him perfectly. Then you have that personal
touch of his signature. Most impressive is the tag
tied to his jacket, which simply says “good times.” This is a powerful
simple message referring to his campaign’s goal
of emphasizing the positives of Taft’s platform. Oh, and check out the
contrasting yellow color. You better believe
that was intentional. Speaking of color, now
that we are quickly moving into the
age of advertising, everything in a design
has a purpose, even color. I love color theory. Let’s simply look at the
colors red, white, and blue. While using the
flag colors may have been unintentional in the past,
in the age of advertising, everything is intentional. Red is a very emotionally
intense color. In fact, it can enhance
your metabolism, increase your breathing rate,
and raise your blood pressure. It’s incredibly
visible, which is why everything from stop signs
to the McDonald’s uses it. Most importantly, it’s
used to indicate courage. What do you think of when
you see the color blue? Sky water, right? It’s often associated
with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust,
royalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, and truth. It’s even beneficial
for your mind and body as it slows your
metabolism and calms you. No wonder why many
companies like these use this color in marketing
products and services. White is associated with light,
goodness, purity, and often perfection. Now that you know a bit
more about color theory, let’s fast forward to
1960 when John F. Kennedy ran for president. This poster most definitely
emphasized the youthfulness of JFK with a real photograph. And check out those
clean, strong blocks of red, white, and blue. JFK’s campaign was all
about youth and vigor– the best word, I swear. Then in 1968, graphic
designers got pretty creative with this Eugene
McCarthy poster. He was outspoken
about the Vietnam War, so this Picasso-ish pigeon
along with the continued use of high contrasting
colors definitely makes a powerful image. During the same year,
however, Bobby Kennedy goes for something
completely different with this cartoon
caricature, swirling font, and bright colors. Purple often represents
royalty and power while green represents
growth and harmony. The green in 68 definitely
makes sense to me, but not so sure
about the purple. Not sure if you knew
this, but in 1972, Shirley Chisholm ran as
the first black woman for president. Chisholm had a simple
yet powerful design, including her slogan
“Unbought and unbossed,” which you have to respect. Amazingly, she had three
assassination attempts during her campaign,
but still kept fighting. She is such an inspiration. Fast forward just a
handful of years to 1984, and check out the imagery
for Ronald Reagan. I find this posterior
so interesting. Apparently, the campaign decided
to revert to 1800s designs with a lot more imagery,
color, and certainly realism. In 2008, we saw one of the
most powerful posters created. Whatever the cause may be, this
campaign sparked something. The art community started
creating some amazing imagery that we haven’t seen before. You may not recognize some
of these powerful posters and stickers, but I
bet this one you do. Artist Shepard Fairey,
also known as Obey Giant, created this now epic
Obama campaign poster. A lot of controversy
surrounds this image since Fairey used a photo
taken by Manny Garcia without his permission. But things were settled,
so let’s focus on the art, shall we? Believe it or not, Fairey
designed and printed this poster in one day. Crazy, right? He also did this without
the Obama campaign even knowing about it. Although not only did Obama
approve and use this image, but he also wrote Fairey
a letter thanking him. Check it out. In this image, we see a
mixture of realism and cartoon within the face. And keep in mind– this was
created with multiple stencils. Instead of simply using
the red, white, and blue in the background
or on the front, Fairey used the colors
throughout the entire artwork. Not only that– he uses
some incredible contrast to move your eye from
one area to the next. For example, check out the
white shirt and collar, which act as a pointer to
the upper right red area. Then, the red of the tie brings
my eye back to the word hope. Notice that white was
not used in the font, which you would have imagined. This allowed the
color white to act as that primary focal point. Hope reads in bold,
simple, clean letters. It’s amazing to me
how one word can summarize an entire campaign. Definitely reminds me that
less can often mean more. Even though we just
scratched the surface of the many political
art designs, hopefully this will give
you a greater appreciation for what goes into
great graphic design and the power of narrative
art in political campaigns. Until next time, be
sure to get out there and vote and be artrageous.

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