“Agitprop” is a word I never learned in my art history classes, despite the fact that there has pretty much always been political art. I guess the term sounds too Communist for the classroom. Historically, political motivations were generally seen in portraiture, monuments, and materials, with artwork intrinsically linked to wealth, power, and faith. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, artists have increasingly found ways to create politically charged artwork that speaks for the oppressed rather than the privileged, often moving into the public sphere with poster campaigns, performances, protests, and press.
As an art form, posters have been popular in Poland since their development in France in the 1880s and 90s, whether advertising gallery exhibitions and theater performances or promoting travel to foreigners. After the region gained political independence in 1918, industrialization and the new trade market led to a barrage of advertising and product-specific posters, incorporating new styles (mainly Cubism) and techniques. After World War II, Poland came under Soviet rule, and an official “Polish Poster School” was founded to spread propaganda through poster art. (In the USSR, graphic designers were actually considered better than fine artists, because they produced useful objects, as opposed to bourgeois painting and sculpture that served no function.)
Between the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the People’s Republic, China experienced a wave of social and political change that at times resulted in an identity crisis as Chinese citizens were sandwiched between centuries-old traditions and an influx of Western trade and influence. Commercial art and design of this period- especially magazine and book covers- reflect this duality, as experienced by many Chinese artists fighting for a new modern aesthetic that maintained a recognizable national flavor. Aimed at members of the growing urban middle class in the 1920s and 30s, these designs reached a greater and more diverse public than traditional painters showing their works in galleries, art schools, or private collectives.