Poster, A Book Is Nothing But a Person Talking Publicly, 1920
You don’t need to read Russian to understand this Soviet poster. In unmistakable visual language, designer Sergei Ivanov conveys the importance of literacy—a crucial issue in the early years of the Soviet Union, when nearly seventy-five percent of the population couldn’t read. In the previous centuries of Tsarist rule, education was a privilege of the elite. Like contemporary viewers unversed in Cyrillic, the peasants and workers who first viewed this poster relied on visual clues to understand its meaning. In the poster, two huge hands hold an oversized book, from which an orator reads aloud. In the crowd below, those who can’t read are dependent upon this orator for information and understanding. Soviet leaders recognized that only literate citizens could engage in political life. But even after instituting educational reforms, the government retained its proverbial orator. State publishers distributed books glorifying Soviet history and doctrine, which discouraged critical analysis. Their ideal reader was a passive recipient of propaganda, and as the Soviet readership grew, so too did censorship initiatives.
It is credited
Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. John Innes Kane.
Its dimensions are
63.3 x 46.9 cm (24 15/16 x 18 7/16 in.)
It is signed
Signed [imprinted] in white, lower right: S.I. [Cyrillic] 20.
It is inscribed
Imprinted in black ink, in Russian, publisher information, caption within image
Cite this object as
Poster, A Book Is Nothing But a Person Talking Publicly, 1920; Russia; two color lithograph on newsprint; 63.3 x 46.9 cm (24 15/16 x 18 7/16 in.); Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. John Innes Kane; 1992-123-2