A Poster Girl with no Poster

Sequestered in an indie coffee house on a rainy Thursday afternoon, avoiding leaving to keep out of the drizzle, I find myself staring at a wall full of posters. From floor to twelve-foot ceiling, some forty feet from the front door to the edge of the bar, posters, two or three hundred of them, advertising concerts, awareness campaigns, poetry readings, avant-garde theatre and forthcoming 'zines. There's probably a lot going on here that I would like to see.

There's just one problem; I don't know what I'm looking at. While any individual poster is fine, taken as a group, they each lose their center and disappear in a glacier of similarity. There's next to nothing that makes any of these one-sheets stand out.

They are all one of three sizes. They utilize equivalent color schemes. Excepting the band names, all of the lettering is in the same family of fonts. A third are in black and white and all of these involve photographs and copious text, almost to the point that they might have been made with the same illustrator template. Those that are in color all invoke one of a handful or retro aesthetics, mostly from the fifties and sixties. Two are obvious homages to iconic album covers of the seventies.

Moreover, I can't tell the band posters from the film screening posters from the public awareness posters. Though, this might be the result of naming conventions. "Rabies Awareness Month" and "Campaign Against Addiction" might be bands or poetry slams and there's really no way for me to know unless I go to the event.

Only three of them stand out. One is for a film and its poster, glossy and edgeless while all the others are matte and bordered, was clearly produced by a commercial advertising agency.* One, black and white, the original clearly done by hand with pencil and ink, is a compelling piece of art, viscerally difficult to look at such is the agony that it implies. But, the font is too small and I can't tell what it's advertising without walking over and looming over the old guy with the iPad. Finally, the one that is original, legible and independently produced, the drummer for that band lives across the hall from me. I was going to that show anyway.

This is not a complaint, not expressly. A lot of this work, viewed on it's own, is probably pretty good. The composition is solid, the images balanced, the focal points deliberate. Someone with real training in graphic design could parse this more completely than I, but the point is that these posters were clearly not thrown together by an amateur. They just blur to indifferentiation when I look at them at once. They line up, edge to edge and seam to seam like some giant Rorschach test photo mosaic from which I cannot extrapolate an image.

Is there some sort of aesthetic, some agreed-upon set of conventions that governs these texts? Is there a right and a wrong way to synthesize these banners of which I am ignorant? Are they all so similar because, as students who work in the same discipline are apt to do, the illustrators and designers all approach this work from the same angle? Or, are the artists who produce these placards all caught in the doldrums of inspiration. Are there really no new ideas left?

Like my old boss would say, "Who knows? Who cares? Just show me something good."

*As I have been writing this, that film poster has been replaced by someone advertising a poetry reading and this new poster might be the worst one up there.

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