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Object Timeline

1920

  • Work on this object began.

1992

  • We acquired this object.

2013

2014

2016

2019

  • You found it!

Poster, A Book Is Nothing But a Person Talking Publicly, 1920

This is a Poster. It is dated 1920 and we acquired it in 1992. Its medium is two color lithograph on newsprint. It is a part of the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design department.

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.

This object was featured in our Object of the Day series in a post titled From Lenin's Lips to God's Hands.

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

This object has no known Copyright restrictions.

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18638825/ |title=Poster, A Book Is Nothing But a Person Talking Publicly, 1920 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=24 June 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>