Political Art

We’ve got a Conservative government to fight against, and we’ve got no money. This is a healthy time for art 

Grayson Perry

This quote from the Guardian newspaper yesterday made me laugh, mostly because I agree with him.  The economic boom did not create much motivational material for artists to work with.  It was Van Gogh who commented that poverty is important for creativity.  Of course this is not always the case, however, the past has proven that some struggle on a personal or collective level does often give rise to great art. Political and propogandist art, for example, jumps to mind.  In some cases it is a reflection of the human desire to attain an ideal; in other cases it is hugely important for motivating men and women in the face of adversity.  Political art may also be used as a powerful tool for brainwashing the masses on behalf of some megalomaniac tyrrant, or as a reaction against a regime or government.  I begin this post with the contemporary graffiti artist, Banksy, partly because I find his work both witty and poignant, and partly because he is from my home town of Bristol and went to the same school as my brothers.

Vietnam Demonstration

Stokes Croft in Bristol (the west country)

This is a photo I took of the fascinating and unashamedly propogandist mosaic on the front facade of the (very ugly) ex.communist cultural ‘palace’ in Dresden, Germany.

A Stalinist propoganda poster by Latvian artist Gustav Klutsis.  He and his wife worked tirelessly for the dictator’s campaigns, until one day Klutsis disappeared.  In the 80s it transpired that Klutsis had been executed by order of Stalin.  Despite not agreeing at all with the agenda of Klutsis, this poster is impressive.  The eye catching communist red superimposed with a black and white photo montage of hands increasing in scale, would have been perfect brainwashing material.

This photograph (Poland 1947) by Jindich Marco, portrays a frivolous scene in which soviet army officers are having their photos taken in front of a screen depicting a beautiful springtime, while behind them the devastating reality tells quite a different story.

Diego Riviera’s mural illustrating the Mexican Revolution.

The iconic image of the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary hero Che Guevara (1928-1967).

A morale lifting British war poster – great graphics!

John Nash’s tragic recollection of a battle in which out of 80 men, 68 of his fellow soldiers were killed within minutes.  He depicts the men climbing out of the trench and walking tiredly to their deaths.  Without any heroics or exaggeration, Nash has harrowingly illustrated the sadness and waste of war.

The following two Paintings are by William Blake and illustrate the then recently deceased national heroes, Pitt (prime minister) and Admiral Lord Nelson.  Both are depicted using the forces of hell to destroy the enemy.  Many scholars now believe that these are satirical paintings. I do not agree. Blake may have not admired the two men in every respect, but even less would he have liked the idea of Napolean invading his beloved shores.  Blake was not a pacifist as is sometimes suggested.  He abhorred war, but at the same time was aware of its occasional necessity.  Analysing the paintings carefully, I feel that Blake has depicted the two men bathed in divine light, suggesting that they have been chosen by God to carry out this terrible deed in order to protect England.

This last work is probably the most famous political image of the twentieth century.  It is Picasso’s Guernica painted for the Paris Exposition in 1937. It illustrates the bombing of Guernica, which lies in the Basque region of Spain.  The assault was carried out by German and Italian war planes, and backed by the Spanish Nationalists.  It depicts the horrors of war, and particularly the devastation it caused for innocent civilians.  Picasso’s imaginative and grotesque take on the subject, so acutely captures the nightmarishness of senseless warfare that it has became a powerful advocate for peace, which is, in itself, an illustration of the very important role art can play in this world.

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~ by bethiarose on June 1, 2010.

One Response to “Political Art”

  1. nice stuff, in particular the photo shoot of the soldiers! Geeeess! Political Art is a necessity if u wanna wake ppl up and is quite efficient too… Thanks for sharing.
    My all time fav is John Heartfield (Helmut Herzfeld) born june 19 1891 in Berlin, Germany as Helmut Herzfelde, dead april 26 1968 in East Berlin, DDR… crystalclear satire, mocking the Nazis. To bad he didn’t saw through the commiesystem in DDR.

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