Save food, and defeat frightfulness

Looking for World War I propaganda posters for to build a slideshow for students I came across this visually stunning and unintentionally hilarious morsel (click for a closer look):


The tableaux is so beautifully rendered — the delicate strain of the woman’s arm, the mournful forbearance of the kneeling man — that I can’t help thinking the instruction is a little banal by comparison. This is “clean your plate, there are starving children in China” writ grandiose. And yet: Don’t you wish sometimes that you could be that sincere? About anything?

Then again, maybe the artist was perfectly cynical about his work, a little artistic war profiteering. Maybe he cared only for the portraiture — clearly he cared for that — and figured the slogans were for others to worry about. I wonder, too, what the models were thinking, holding that pose. The woman holding the limp doll has to pick up her kid from her mother’s in half an hour; the soldier wants a drink; the nurse would like the artist to quit leering at her. And I’m not even going to ask why it’s only the women tied to that iron cross.

In any case I liked it enough that I took the faded scan from the Library of Congress website and brightened it in Photoshop. If we’re going to defeat frightfulness we shouldn’t be dingy about it.