D.B. Dowd wrote an article for Hyperallergic titled How Early US Propaganda Grew Out of a Society of Illustrators.

Propaganda Posters

« When the United States Congress declared war on the Imperial German government in April 1917, belatedly entering World War I… George Creel, a former Rocky Mountain News editor… assumed the chairmanship of the new Committee on Public Information, an independent government agency formed by President Wilson’s executive order on April 13. Over the next two years, the CPI — a de facto department of propaganda — would sprout many “divisions,” or areas of activity, but few would rival what became the poster shop: the Division of Pictorial Publicity. »

« Creel later wrote in How We Advertised America (published in 1920), “The poster must play a great role in the fight for public opinion. The printed word might not be read; people might choose not to attend meetings or to watch motion pictures, but the billboard was something that caught even the most indifferent eye.” »

Illustration Fueled by Magazine Advertising

« During the 1890s, a new generation of American magazine publishers developed an alternative for the dusty old “family house” magazines which published literary and historical subjects. The new breed embraced current topics and sought popular appeal, crucially by lowering prices. Because cheaper issues would have to be underwritten by advertising revenue… Advertisements quickly evolved into a fresh visual medium. In the process, magazine covers and full-page advertisements provided the space and money for illustrators and designers to create a new commercial science of word, image, and letterform. »

Society of Illustrators

« In the late 19th century, the illustrators… were not strictly distinguished from painters, and their practices remained somewhat fluid. But as the art historian Michele Bogart has noted in Artists, Advertising, and the Borders of Art, soon the stink of commercialism specifically associated with advertising work clung to the status of illustrators. Partly in response, in 1901 a core group led by Charles Dana Gibson founded a professional association with a fancy name: the Society of Illustrators — still in business today »

The article includes illustrations by Joseph Pennell, Kenyon Cox, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Dana Gibson (The Gibson Girls), James Montgomery Flagg (Uncle Sam), Howard Chandler Christie, Coles Phillps, and H.R. Hopps.


D.B. is author of Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice. In an interview with The Key Point, D.B. Dowd discusses illustration and cartooning as part of cultural history rather than art history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s