If you're a fan of great design - especially creating it - then no doubt you're always on the lookout for inspiration in the world around you. It's great to be forward thinking when it comes to creativity but looking back over your shoulder at the talents of yesteryear is also a superb way to get the creative juices flowing in your own practice. And happily we've found a tremendous example of excellent design and artistic vision from the past!
A graphic artist from Berlin named Detlef Helmbold has compiled a book of movie posters from East Germany, created during the period in history where the area was separated both literally (by the wall) and culturally from the West. And despite what many may think, Helmbold believes that East German graphic artists had more creative freedom than their counterparts in the West when designing movie posters.
DW.com spoke to him to find out why, and we thought we'd give you a quick preview of their interview:
DW: When it comes to the GDR, the word freedom does not necessarily come to mind. But they say that the artists who made movie posters in former East Germany were freer than many of their western counterparts. In what way?
Detlef Helmbold: That was because the graphic artists in the GDR had less guidance; they had fewer specifications, so on the level of design, there was a lot of artistic freedom. It can be traced back to the graphic artists Otto Kummert and Erhard Grüttner, who were employed at the time by Progress Film Distribution [the agency which commissioned movie posters in the GDR].
The two of them put forward the thesis that design posters with an artistic sensibility are always advantageous. Thus they were able to see to it that graphic artists in the GDR were not hung up on trying to simply reflect the content of the film or represent the main characters or a crucial scene and thus achieve an advertising effect. Rather, they tried to construct an artistic, emotional relationship to the film, as their view went that in doing so, one would better be able to transport the film to the viewer.
To that end, graphic artists were given as few limitations as possible: They were free to choose a font size and typeface and so on. And that was different in the West? Of course there were graphic artists in the West who could operate more freely. That may not have been the case with more mainstream movies, but graphic designers who had already made a name for themselves were given more freedom.
In the GDR, by and large, young and up-and-coming graphic artists already had this freedom. That was something I experienced myself; I worked at Progress Film Distribution for four years, from 1986 to 1990, and was amazed at what I could do artistically. Everything was measured in terms of design and had to have a high artistic and creative worth. Eighty percent of the people who were in charge of deciding on poster design were ultimately graphic designers, and only 20 percent came from public relations.
Of course there were also limitations, but these rarely corresponded to the design and were rather a response to the content.
One example: A poster from 1980 for a Yugoslavian film's original title was "The Journalist." In the poster designed by Hans-Eberhard Ernst, there is a muzzle, which might have led people to believe that in the GDR, journalists are muzzled. In the end, it was the movie's title that was changed —not the poster. Still, the poster was not hung, likely because the responsible parties were afraid to display it, as indeed, the movie was about a journalist.
The whole interview with Helmbold is super interesting so we highly recommend you check it out and take a look at more examples of excellent East German post art.