London artist Genis Carreras in front of his philosophy posters. Image via http://www.geniscarreras.com/about.html.

London designer Genis Carreras in front of his philosophy posters. Image via http://www.geniscarreras.com/about.html.

LOS ANGELES — Quick, define existentialism. Simple, right? We all know what it means. Or do we? Here’s the definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Existentialism,” therefore, may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence. To approach existentialism in this categorial way may seem to conceal what is often taken to be its “heart” (Kaufmann 1968:12), namely, its character as a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, its anti-system sensibility, its flight from the “iron cage” of reason. But while it is true that the major existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather uncommon in our own time, and while the idea that philosophy cannot be practiced in the disinterested manner of an objective science is indeed central to existentialism, it is equally true that all the themes popularly associated with existentialism — dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on — find their philosophical significance in the context of the search for a new categorial framework, together with its governing norm.

In other words, super clear.

Anyone who’s spent a little time reading the original language of our great philosophers knows that philosophers aren’t ones for simple, clear communications.  It takes a great deal of effort to untangle the mysteries of existence, and that often requires a lot of words.  The Stanford Encylopedia’s entry for Simplicity is breathtakingly long. But it does say this: “Most philosophers believe that, other things being equal, simpler theories are better.”

So thank goodness for a designer like Genis Carreras, whose attempt to distill complex philosophical topics into clean, minimal posters is welcome. Determinism, for instance, appears as a set of dominos kickstarted by a single ball. Free will envisions a world of randomly-arranged triangles and diamonds. Some are not so clear at first glance — existentialism appears as a series of intersecting ovals, forming a butterfly-like shape — and some are downright provocative, like an upside down cross for atheism.

But hey, they get the basic idea across quickly. You can see the entire series here.

(h/t swissmiss)

AX Mina (aka An Xiao Mina) is an author, artist and futures thinker who follows her curiosity. She co-produces Five and Nine, a podcast about magic, work and economic justice. 

4 replies on “Posters Distill Philosophy Into Simple Visuals”

  1. @b knight: I agree. These posters are nice but have more to do with a revival of mid-century design aesthetics than actually communicating philosophical concepts. I personally find them to be very attractive but ultimately void. Just another example of resampling and rehashing. 

  2. I think they are cool and give us a different way of
    thinking about philosophical ideas. Why do we usually call a dog a dog and not
    a small to medium sized mammal, most commonly with a tail and a distinctive
    call known as a bark, that domesticated itself in the Asian steppes some 50,000
    years BC? Lots of reasons I suppose but for one that “dog” fills the eye in a
    simple, graceful way but which signifies a complex set of ideas and
    associations. 

  3. Robert is right, this is a well treaded revival of modernist design. There are literally hundreds of these types of solutions to visualizing certain themes from movies, to music, to literature. This is not interesting work nor is it very innovative.

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