In 1941, delivering his annual message to Congress, Franklin Delano Roosevelt named the "four essential human freedoms": freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from want and fear. The Four Freedoms became both a call to arms and the founding principles of the World War II generation. In 1943, artist Norman Rockwell planted them even deeper into the American psyche by painting four scenes that depicted the Four Freedoms. The paintings ran in the Saturday Evening Post.
Now, the Wolfsonian museum in Miami is basing a small exhibition on the Rockwell paintings and the freedoms they represent—but not without adding one more. "Of all those freedoms that Roosevelt was talking about, he never mentioned voting," says design writer Steven Heller, who was tapped by the museum to curate the show. Reasoning that the freedom to vote provides the foundation for all of the other freedoms, Heller asked four designers to create original poster designs around that theme. In August, the posters will be shown in the museum's lobby as part of Thoughts on Democracy: Freedom to Vote 2016.
It follows up a 2008 show based on the Rockwell paintings that pulled together original works from 60 contemporary artists. For this year's show, Heller narrowed the focus. He reached out to four New York-based graphic designers—Mirko Ilić, Oliver Munday, Paul Sahre, and Bonnie Siegler—and asked them to decide between four aspects of the right to vote they most wanted to illustrate. In the most literal interpretation, Siegler chose to design for the right to vote without waiting in line, and tied in a text that describes the Rights Act with an image of the flag. The others chose to go more of a conceptual route, and focused on making your vote count, voting for the candidate of your choice, and not needing an ID to vote. All comment on the deep imperfections of the U.S. voting system.
Heller, who has written several books on the art of political poster design, says that it's hard to pin down a formula for what makes the best ones. They arouse emotion while giving perspective to an issue, he says, but it's often that the harder you try to hit that perfect storm, the more elusive it is. "It's part serendipity and part putting forth something that is going to have an impact," he says.
The posters will go up in the lobby of the Wolfsonian-FIU in Miami in August and run through election day on November 8. Until then, check them out in the slide show above.