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What do YOU say AMERICA

Jonathan Lawson

The focus of this writing will be on the "What do YOU say AMERICA" exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum that is running parallel with the "Hindsight is Always 20/20" exhibit. This exhibit showcased a variety of posters that appeared to have been copied from originals done in paint. There was a total of 29 pieces from both the World Wars, with the majority coming form WWII. The pieces were placed along the walls in a square chamber for the most part at eye level with a few pieces that were above the others likely so that they fit better. The posters were made by a wide range of people, although much about the artists was unknown, on many the only known fact was the name because of a signature on the poster. Similar to how Hubert Duprat is considered an artist for his larval tubes, it could be stated that the artist for many of these pieces is in fact the US government. It was them who commissioned the pieces for particular goals, in place of the people that physically created the original poster.

This exhibit was about American propaganda and how the government speaks to the people. Some posters were calls to action to directly help the war front, such as the poster asking women to work in factories machining tools of war, while others were counter-propaganda posters. There was a stark difference in these two approaches. The direct call posters were realistic in appearance and drew on nationalism, where as the counter-propaganda posters were cartoonish and comical in appearance, and drew on arrogance, implying that one would have to be stupid to believe anything the Germans said. In addition to these two types there was another type of poster that fit more as indirect help to the war effort. Within this category were posters asking for conservation of food and oil and cautioning against 'careless talk' and accidental injury.

An example of one poster (to which a link has been provided), which falls under the group of indirect help, is the one titled "Food is a weapon, Don't Waste it!" This poster appears to have been originally created by painting. In the image there is an empty cup, and a plate with only a few bones that have been picked clean on it, along with the following text:
FOOD IS A WEAPON
DON'T WASTE IT!
BUY WISELY - COOK CAREFULLY - EAT IT ALL
FOLLOW THE NATIONAL WARTIME NUTRITION PROGRAM
The artist behind the piece is unknown, but even without the text on it, in the context of a War Era poster, its message remains clear. Eat everything, let nothing go to waste. The artist behind the poster was probably instructed to make something to promote the National Wartime Nutrition Program, possibly even with that specific tag line. With that in mind, I can't think of an image that to me would be more effective in conveying the message.

Though I found the images interesting, I do not think I would tell a friend to visit the exhibit, unless they happened to be nearby already. There are many collections of WWII propaganda posters available online and these images aren't much different in person then on a computer. The message they convey remains the same, only with an online collection there would be more available pieces to view.

Food is a Weapon: http://www.nh.gov/nhsl/ww2/ww10prt.html