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Thoughts on Thoughts on Democracy

In his 1941 State of the Union Address, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed four freedoms that should serve as a foundation not only for the U.S. but for the world: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Two years later, in 1943, the weekly Saturday Evening Post magazine published, in four consecutive issues during February and March, the four famous posters created by Norman Rockwell that visualized — in his unmatched depiction of everyday American life — Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Now, 65 years after they were first published, The Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach has asked 60 designers from around the world to design a poster or series of posters based on Rockwell’s Four Freedoms. The exhibition, Thoughts on Democracy (ToD), appropriately opens this Saturday, one day after the 4th of July.

Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms

In the best spirit of transparency (and democracy!) the team at The Wolfsonian has been updating a wonderful blog that showcases all the submitted posters and shares the process of mounting the exhibition. Not all 60 contributions are good, or not all 60 contributions I get, but here are some of my favorite posters (click on each image to go the appropriate entry on the ToD blog):

ToD posters, Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd While most designers submitted a single poster that captured the essence of Rockwell’s four posters, Kidd did a blow-by-blow of each poster and created this series that deals with what happens when those four freedoms are eschewed to the wrong extremes: “Thus Freedom from Want leads to rampant obesity; Freedom of Worship leads to using God to hate; Freedom of Speech leads to destruction of property; and Freedom from Fear leads to the proliferation and deadly use of guns.”

ToD posters, Ruth Ansel

Ruth Ansel A nice typographic solution, pointing to how the freedoms interact and overlap.

ToD posters, Ken Carbone

Ken Carbone This one could have worked even better with just the strong idea of the Four Freedoms script and nothing more.

ToD posters, Allan Cochinov

Allan Cochinov As a poster proper this one, well, sucks. But as a smart interpretation of what Freedom of Speech means in the twenty-first century this one, well, rocks.

ToD posters, Alan Dye

Alan Dye Not sure what this metaphor is about, but it sure makes for a lovely poster.

ToD posters, Robert Grossman

Robert Grossman If we have the right to bear arms we sure have freedom to bear arms while enjoying the rest of our freedoms. Yee-haw!

ToD posters, Kind Company

Kind Company Another interesting type-driven solution, this one placing its emphasis on the man behind the words.

ToD posters, 2x4

2×4 This is probably one of my favorites. A simple twist of words that creates a powerful statement.

ToD posters, Kate Spade

Kate Spade Freedom to enjoy a wonderful design solution.

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.02.2008 BY Armin
Brandon’s comment is:

2x4 is so great. How could there be a better solution?

On Jul.02.2008 at 12:38 PM
Dave Parker’s comment is:

Thank God for Kate Spade's entry, a positive look at this crazy country of ours.

On Jul.02.2008 at 01:26 PM
Design Benign’s comment is:

I think Kate Spade's is the most successful entry- not only in a design sense, but it's original. All too often designers get caught up in the negative aspects of what freedom means in America. There is certainly a face of corruption on freedom in the US, but Ms. Spade's design reminds us that it also means joyfulness, the freedom to do the unexpected and the unplanned, and that it can be happy and colorful. It's a very welcomed change of attitude.

On Jul.02.2008 at 04:59 PM
Josh Hemsath’s comment is:

I would be so bold as to say that Kate Spade's entry, much like that company's style, places an emphasis on the aesthetic of substance-less, RealSimple cutesiness. And while positive and "optimistic", the poster is almost like a bounced check: full of the empty and unfulfilled promises of this country, and not at all grounded in the reality that people no longer have the freedom to "speak their mind" (e.g. "Free Speech Zones").

Much like Christmas has turned into the commercialized interpretation of "giving" and "family" (see: "What would Jesus buy?" to find out what it has become); Independence Day has turned into the commercialized interpretation of "Freedom" in the mode of Red, White and Blue.

Quite frankly, every time I look at Spade's entry, I'm filled with a sense of outrage and betrayal--but not at the designer. The designer only reflects the compromised values of our current American social structure.

On Jul.02.2008 at 06:58 PM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

I share your feelings, Josh. It says to me, "freedom to add more flair."

2x4's submission had the most impact for me but perhaps only because it seemed the most reverent.

They all struck me as a bit evasive, frankly. Somewhere, someone will have submitted the entry that expresses the topic NOT as an object or place but as an activity. When one stops doing it, it's gone.

The very word makes me grumpy.

On Jul.03.2008 at 02:19 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

All these posters, I'm unfortunately inclined to think, are weaklings. Dealing with the subject that has become so abstract as to make repeating the word visually mean almost nothing. Most of them design tricks not convictions. Even the cynicism of Grossman and Kidd are rather boring. I don't mean to disparage these fine designers. But where's the passion here?

Take freedom away completely and then see what kind of posters crop up...

On Jul.04.2008 at 03:28 PM
Stacy R’s comment is:

After seeing your top picks, and then visiting the site to view all of the other entries. I have to say you picked all but about 2-3 more that I thought were on target.

I would say that over half of the posters left me with this reaction though "HUH???".

On Jul.07.2008 at 10:00 AM
PaulH’s comment is:

Blogger Ann Althouse has an excellent review of the Wolfsonian
Museum exhibition here:

Ann Althouse review

On Jul.09.2008 at 07:27 AM
Random Boy’s comment is:

There are some great bits of work - its interesting the turn from positive (then) to cynical (now); my guess is that its easier to be that cynical voice - and arguably more important to question the pillers of power in todays corporatist economy than ever before, that said i'm not sure some of the people exhibiting have delved as deep into the pockets of iconography as deeply as they could to make it that important a show that will question both foreign and domestic policy which has and is being eroded in the name of our most precious asset; Freedom.


On Jul.14.2008 at 05:54 AM