Between Connotation and Denotation. Posters Announcing the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music in 1956-2015

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The posters that accompany the successive Warsaw Autumn Festival editions are a unique collection of works, mostly of outstanding quality. One might venture the thesis that their artistic value – living up to the high demands of the topic – exceeds the typical standards of representation characteristic of popular art. Formally speaking, they abandon the conventions of egalitarian iconographic art in favour of a more elite-oriented visual formula, addressed to a competent audience knowledgeable about contemporary music and its qualities. The authors of these WA posters include many artists associated with the Polish school, such as Jan Lenica, Jan Młodożeniec, Julian Pałka, Waldemar Świerzy, Henryk Tomaszewski, and Wojciech Zamecznik. Their graphic representations of the achievements of the musical avant-garde do not, however, situate this poster series within the well-sanctioned canon of the “Polish poster school”, mostly associated with the film and theatre – generally considered as more “democratic” and entertainment-oriented disciplines of art.

The WA posters point to an evident polarisation of visual culture, corresponding to the division between high and low culture and between two types of audiences, differing in expectations. These posters form a largely autonomous collection and may be viewed as supplementary to the music they refer to, which determined the choice of expressive means appropriate to this topic. The whole collection is a display of its authors’ evident skills and their ability to live up to the high demands placed on these works.

The task of translating one medium into another (in this case – a visual one) requires intellectual discipline. Some kind of (at least formal) similarity between the two media needs to be discovered, and shared semantic elements ought to be traced. On the verbal level, such similarities are presented in terms of related distinctive features, ways of describing phenomena, and intuitions. The 19th-century Romantic concept of the correspondance des arts was based on similar assumptions. The Romantics attempted to systematise the emotions accompanying the experience of different arts, looking for affinities and similar form-building strategies.

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