The Art of the Hoarding
Advertisement is an absolute necessity of modern life,
and if it can be made beautiful as well as obvious, so much the
better for the makers of soap and the public who are likely to wash.
The popular idea of a picture is something
told in oil or writ in water to be hung on a rooms wall or
in a picture gallery to perplex an artless public. No one expects
it to serve a useful purpose or take a part in everyday existence.
Our modern painter has merely to give a picture a good name and
Now the poster first of all justified its
existence on the grounds of utility, and should it further aspire
to beauty of line and colour, may not our hoardings claim kinship
with the galleries, and the designers of affiches pose proudly in
the public eye as the masters of Holland Road or Bond Street Barbizon
(and, recollect, no gate money, no catalogue)?
Still there is a general feeling that the
artist who puts his art into the poster is déclasséon
the streetsand consequently of light character. The critics
can discover no brush work to prate of, the painter looks askance
upon a thing that achieves publicity without a frame, and beauty
without modelling, and the public find it hard to take seriously
a poor printed thing left to the mercy of sunshine, soot, and shower,
like any old fresco over an Italian church door.
What view the bill-sticker and sandwich
man take of the subject I have yet to learn. The first is, at least,
no bad substitute for a hanging committee, and the clothes of the
second are better company than somebody elses picture, and
less obtrusive than a background of stamped magenta paper.
Happy, then, those artists who thus escape
the injustice of juries and the shuffling of dealers, and choose
to keep that distance that lends enchantment to the private view,
and avoid the world of worries that attends on those who elect to
make an exhibition of themselves.
London will soon be resplendent with advertisements,
and, against a leaden sky, sky-signs will trace their formal arabesque.
Beauty has laid siege to the city, and telegraph wires shall no
longer be the sole joy of our æsthetic perceptions.
Now, as to the technicalities of the art,
I have nothing to say. To generalise upon any subject is to fall
foul of the particular, and twere futile to lay down any rules
for the making of posters. Ones ears are weary of the voice
of the art teacher who sits like the parrot on his perch, learning
the jargon of the studios, making but poor copy and calling it criticism.
We have had enough of their omniscience, their parade of technical
knowledge, and their predilection for the wrong end of the stick.
But if there be any who desire to know not how posters are
madebut how they should be, I doubt not that I could give
them the addresses of one or two gentlemen who, having taken art
under their wing, would give all necessary information.
¶ 1894. First published in The New Review, July