Art Vs. Propaganda

In class this last week, I started thinking about the effect art has on people. When someone sees a photograph or painting of a breathtaking natural landscape, they are left in awe. But what action does that provoke? Do they want to investigate further? Maybe even visit the landscape itself to see the beauty first hand? Does the artwork call for action and want the viewer to make a stand for the cause? Or do they feel like they’ve seen it once, they’ve seen it all? Or they simply cannot make a difference? This really perplexed me and provoked my interest so I decided to look into it deeper.

Art has an enormous amount of power and this can extend to an extraordinary amount of people. There are many organizations with the sole purpose of inspiring change. Art Works for Change is one of these organizations. Their sole mission is to “create contemporary art exhibitions around the world [that] address critical social and environmental issues. [They] harness the power of art to promote awareness, provoke dialogue, and inspire action.” They rely on many forms of art to portray these pressing issues and engage the audience on multiple levels. One of my favorite images promoted by Art Works for Change is Christopher Lamarca’s “Forest Defenders.” It is taken in Oregon and calls attention to the logging that is tearing down the forests there. We see this happening in countless places and our forests are being rapidly diminished. Yet nothing and no one seems to be stopping it from happening. By brilliantly capturing this image, it provokes thought and brings awareness to this issue; therefore potentially bringing about a change.

After seeing this image perfectly capture this pressing issue, one will either by captivated and motivated to take action or on the other hand, they may care less or feel they can make no difference and simply move on with their daily life. Whatever the percentage may be that it sets a fire under, it is worth the effort. If one image can cause one person to stand up for just one cause, the world would be a better place and art would be a main cause of that.

In Jay Griffiths’ essay The Far-seers of Art, she elaborates on the fact that art plays such a huge role in our society which is much more than the typical role of propaganda. She believes that “art’s job is not propaganda. Propaganda aims for the cliché and, in attempting to speak to everyone, speaks in fact to no one. Art takes an idiosyncratic line; the more surely envoiced the artist becomes, the stronger the response to their work.” Propaganda can be seen as a form of art, yet it has completely different methods. Propaganda is avoided and people do their best to ignore it when they fail to escape it’s grasp. Art, on the other hand, can be presented in an enticing and beautiful way. The general audience embraces art and wants to learn and enjoy it’s message. This alone is in direct contrast to the ultimate effect of propaganda.

The question that follows this is: what is the difference in propaganda’s effect versus art’s effect. Does art persuade more people to follow through with action? Or despite our attempted evasion of propaganda, does it influence more people? We know propaganda is effective or it wouldn’t still be in such high use today. Starting with propaganda used back in war times such as these classic examples shown above. We know that these ads were quite influential at the time and the power of ads has only increased.

Regardless of its message, just about any campaign designed to persuade people can be considered propaganda and most people think of it as a negative thing. For example take, Obama’s campaign. It doesn’t have any purpose of being negative, but it still fits the technical definition while having an influence on people. This could also be another form of art. Seeing as Obama won the election in 2008, we can assume this ad did not hurt his campaign, proving some bit of effectiveness.

Furthermore, take this campaign attempting to sway people to anti-abortion. It is heart breaking to see and has quite an impact on a typical viewer.

Although all these ads can be seen as art and propaganda, art’s sole purpose goes beyond that of swaying people. It grabs hold of a person and captures their essence. Art is a beautiful tool that can be used to make a change in the world. It doesn’t feed people lies, or attempt to take a stab at everything it faces. Art instead wants to display images to its audience and allow them to make their own interpretation. Art is accepted and embraced. Art is loved and cherished.

In the end, art can come together and serve as a collective force for change and we should use it to its fullest.

2 thoughts on “Art Vs. Propaganda

  1. This segues nicely into some of Berger’s points about the different ways of reading art. Are we always to look for the political meaning when we encounter paintings? Where does the intention of context of a piece play into this? Interesting post! I hope we get to talk more about it in class

  2. It’s also interesting to think about the ways art has changed (or hasn’t changed) since the renaissance and the classical period where art and propaganda were sometimes the same thing. When there was less forms of media, art was pretty much the only way to make visuals that could impact or influence the culture. Does this mean that as time goes on and more ways of communication sprout, the less and less powerful good ole visual art as we know it will become? Or will art’s flexible nature allow for new ways of art-making to arise, adapting to the continually complicated world? OR, in the worst case scenario, is art already dead?

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