Christopher Hoult

Software engineer, actor, speaker, print designer

Before things went pretty far south for me a couple of years ago (and also partly causing it) I was marketing manager for a local theatre. I did all sorts of jobs as part of this - running social media, talking to the press, organizing programmes, running the website and making sure the printed media (posters and flyers) were created to a standard. As part of the latter, I also designed and delivered most of the publicity material over the three years I was in the job, either just typesetting someone else's art, or creating the artwork itself.

I was rather proud of my output, and how professional it looked (especially coming from someone with no real visual art background and an Adobe suite auto-didact. On top of this, other than the pressure that came with producing stuff on time, it was actually fun. Separating myself from the theatre meant I was no longer practicing these skills or creating tangible art.

So when I come to look at my own self-care, and coping with loneliness, I recognize the need to do something productive and creative with my time. A few months back I had the idea to work on a series of poster designs for prominent open-source software that I use and admire. A couple of ideas immediately sprang to mind and... I just didn't act on the concept.

Then, yesterday, on my own with nothing to do I had a burst of creativity. I built a LEGO Guggenheim model, cooked myself a Chicken Kiev from an old recipe I know (soon to be written up here) and sat down with Photoshop for the first time in a couple of years.

First off, having had a strong image for it, I chose the Doctrine project, as I know one or two of the maintainers, and basically use it the other day. Plus, the word "doctrine" gives me the image of angles, and of strict coherence - and so what sprung to mind was a Soviet-style propaganda poster. I searched Google Images for some inspiration and set to work.

After about an hour or so of work, I got to a first draft, and posted it on Twitter:

I was quite proud of this, and took a little bit of feedback on it, such as pointing out that the "R" was facing the "wrong" (Latin) direction. I put out a final version and offered the print file for download.

On the whole, the reaction has been positive, with the maintainer of Doctrine loving it. However, one prominent member of the PHP community quoted my tweet with the commentary "Dislike" - and another picked it up and disparaged it further. It turns out that he believed I was attacking Doctrine rather than celebrating it with a tribute; when I expressed disappointment with his knee-jerk reaction he accepted my intent, but switched his objection to it being perceived by others as an attack. Furthermore, another couple of commentators have taken offence due to the history of Soviet Russia and its persecution and murder of tens (hundreds, perhaps) of millions of people.

With my self-esteem issues, my initial reaction was "oh shit, I should remove this, I meant to offend no-one, and some people don't like it." But reflecting on these feelings, I have chosen to defend my choices in creating a piece of my own work that I am looking at with pride that is unusual for me. Plus, the people who would be the target of an attack, if that is what I was intending, actually like the image.

You have the right to be offended

You have the right to be offended; so do I. It's part of the whole "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" concept - there are going to be all sorts of aspects of your life experience and knowledge that I don't have, and likewise there are plenty of things I have direct experience with that you don't. We each have our own identity; we each have our own set of morals and biases.

Personally, I have a lot less connection with the results of Communism in other countries - I grew up in a US where we'd just won the Cold War, with glasnost and other developments heralding the collapse of the USSR when I was seven or eight. I can't claim to understand what it was like living under the oppressive regime, nor can I claim to understand what it's like to be accused of being a Communist in the era of McCarthy, for example. My schooling has only lightly touched on internal matters in Soviet Russia, with little emphasis on the death toll meted out on its populations.

What I do have is a cartoon understanding, a child's one. The USSR had a very defined style of propaganda, and one (in my limited understanding) that manifested itself in glorifying and promoting the Motherland and productivity, rather than being directed at a particular people in the way that Nazi propadanda did. This, while being naive, has led to my understanding of such material as inoffensive in form (I am more than happy to have this corrected for me).

When challenged to think about the offence my design has caused some people, I considered what other propaganda styles I could use for Doctrine posters. American, British... Nazi? And I realise that, with that final example, I would draw the line, because I would be offended.

And I guess that's the thing - if no offence is meant, if no direct target of a piece of art is intended, then I'm not sure how to process said offence other than to say "to each their own."

Yes, perhaps I have been misguided in using imagery from a regime that has a bloody and violent recent history. But at what point is using that imagery okay? The US performed the only nuclear attack, killing a hundred thousand people in Japan; its also frequently accused of all sorts of crimes as a result of its decades-long interventionism and adherence to the Truman Doctrine. Does that mean that creating US propaganda-inspired art is to be avoided?

I somehow suspect that a lot of the detractors of my Soviet design would think not.

Thanks go to Claus Due for a robust and respectful conversation on this (along with pointing me to the fact that Denmark was the first country to legislate against slavery as a response to my ad absurdum defense.

If you want to download the print-ready A3 version of the final poster, find it here.