All of the talk about the economy tanking is depressing, so I prefer to look at greatness instead. One of the most fantastic things to come out of the first Great Depression (as Jon Stewart likes to call it) were the Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters that were designed to keep the public’s spirits high in the midst of our country’s lowest depths. Roosevelt created the posters through the Federal Art Project, and ReadyMade magazine did a fantastic tribute to them in their Dec./Jan. issue, asking contemporary artists to create their own posters based on the original designs.
American art has never been so liberally supported by government as it was during the critical years between 1933 and 1943. The FAP served a dual purpose: It gave unemployed artists work while demonstratively branding the virtues of the nation through rousing mass communication. The WPA Poster Division was mandated to promote the cultural and social programs that FDR’s administration took great pains to foster. The posters supported hygiene, education, sports, vacations, conservation, community, theater, dance, and music; they cautioned about workplace safety and venereal disease.
WPA artists turned to an early form of universal symbolism that involved a streamlined variant of artmoderne (or art deco), a hint of Russian constructivism, a smattering of cubism, and a dose of surrealism that gave the posters the aura of timely modernity.