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Visual Arts and Politics

Table of Contents
  1. Visual arts as an instrument of government (propaganda)
  2. Visual arts as an agent for political change
  3. Visual art as a political critic
  4. Visual arts in war
  5. References

War… There are only three letters in this word, but how much meaning and content. Having heard this simple, from the point of view of structure, word, people’s minds create terrible pictures of blood, pain and tears. Visual art is one of the main types of art which manages to deliver the information about such terrible time, which transfer all the feelings and people’s fears through pictures, their pain and disasters, which had to be overcome. Visual arts is the type of art, which is used in modern world with different aims, taking those, which are the most close to the theme of war and politics, the following spheres of social life may be identified as propaganda, communication, war, the signs of some changes and political critics.

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Visual arts as an instrument of government (propaganda)

Starting the discussion of visual arts as an instrument of government, propaganda should be mentioned as the main issue, which is used by government to impose its ideas in public. One of the most common spheres, where propaganda is used, is political sphere, when some people, in reference to some considerations, use propaganda as the tool to alter the audience’s opinion “through the manipulation of narrative art and graphic symbols” (Cull, Culbert, & Welch 2003, p.21). Visual propaganda also comprises media, which is one of the main influencer on people’s minds. Media and other types of propaganda give the extended power to those, who use such type of influence on people’s opinion (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006, p.282).

During the war time propaganda in the USA reached its highest level. Patriotism was the core concentration of people’s attention, and navy forces tried to attract as much people as possible in their rows. The slogans like “Pull Together Men – the Navy Needs Us” with the visual interpretations (Appendix 1) were put all over the country. I was then able to justify the influence of this picture on people, as future solders began to come from different parts of the state. The main aim of the introduced picture by Boomhower, which was first published in 1917 (Appendix 1), pushed on the patriotic feelings of every citizen and the rows of American soldiers began to increase, as it seems to me. In a word, media and other visual arts were controlled by the military sphere. Taking Australian example, visual art widespread in the society is controlled by the government, as film industry, television, with all advertizing, art and other cultural heritage is supported and remains under the control of the government (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, p.367).

The above information led me to the question, whether to consider visual art as the art, or as propaganda. Ruud van Dijk (2008) in his Encyclopedia of the Cold War is sure that propaganda is the “tool gradually eroded both the financial and philosophical foundations” (p.954). I definitely agree with it as all visual arts are the propaganda in this or that way, if to consider propaganda as the way of influence people’s feelings, emotions and opinion. Visual art provides this very function in the society, to show people some thing, with the aim to influence them.

Visual arts as an agent for political change

Visual arts usually function as the agent of the politics change. The main characteristic of these changes are introduced on the pictures and in other types of visual arts. Visual arts deliver the information to the society about changes in social and political life. The example may be introduced, which is the strong support of the mentioned information, as for me. When the new president is chosen, his/her pictures will be represented to the whole society, in the case if important decisions in the country are provided, the society will know about this either from TV, or through other pictures in the streets. In this case, visual arts play the role of the agent between government and society. In addition, the use of visual arts, as the agents of some changes, is not so new, and it was used for many years in different countries (Hornik & Parsons 2005, p.102)

Having looked on the picture by Saalberg, which was introduces for the audience in 1942 (Appendix 3), the slogan is rather impressive, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain… Remember Dec. 7th”. I see this information and the spoiled flag of the USA as the example of the government politics, directed on the social imposing of other people to respect those, who died during Pearl Harbor attack by the Empire of Japan, and do so that their actions were not in vane. This is the example, to my mind, when government wants to deliver some information to the society through pictures, and visual arts are the agents in this delivery.

The main aim of the agent functions of the visual arts, which I was able to determine, is not just to introduce the information, but for implementation of the ideological ideas in the society (Jones 2003, p.82). All visual arts on the social and political theme have their ideological contest and any changes, which occur in the political and social life of the country predetermine some changes, that is why visual arts are some times considered as the agents of the changes, as the information, introduced there, usually have informative character and changes directed.

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Visual art as a political critic

Often pictures, introduced to the audience, express some critiques to the actions, provided by the government. The October demonstration with visual support in London is the example of people’s dissatisfaction with the government actions and the demand to change the course. The picture, made during the London demonstration on October 24, 2009 is the visual, which perfectly shows how society may protest. On the photo, made by James Wray (Appendix 5) the posters with the slogans “bring the troops home”, “no more imperialism wars” and others are seen, and in my opinion they are of the great influence. Watching the photo, it may be understood that the main aim of the demonstration and the posters, which are used, is to attract people’s attention to the problem of war in Afghanistan, and to make government take into account the social critics (Stop the war activists 2009).

Pictures and posters, used during demonstration, attract more attention than just words, and crowd, as I see. The development of democratic in the society gives way and freedom to the political artists, who by their work show the dissatisfaction of the whole society and introduce critical theories to the whole country (Carrier 2003, p.170). Visual arts have always been considered as drawings and paintings by me, which are introduced in the museums and galleries, but the modern tendency is that “contemporary art is sometimes intended as a political critique or social commentary, it has increasingly taken on a practical role related to social transformation” (Salmon 2008, p.8). Moreover, some scholars stress that visual arts in the political sphere became commercialized, in other words, if somebody wants to implement his/her ideas in the society through posters and other visualization, money is the only barrier, which may be easily come through (Meurer 2000). And I definitely agree with this statement.

Visual arts in war

As I was able to determine, the use of visual arts in war and about war are the most exciting and emotional, terrifying and intensional. Portraying children (Appendix 6), the artists have the aim to show the biggest disaster of wars as they are unprotected and cannot cope with the problems, which adults can. Analyzing different wars and identifying the role of children there, I noticed that that during war children become elder, they take arm in their hands, become soldiers and fight for the benefit of their land (Singer 2006, p.71). Watching such pictures, my heart bleeds for them. The pain of children may never be compared with the pain of adults, as children are in the highest level of threat, starting with inner suffering, and finishing with the health problems (Machel & Salgado 2001, p.123).

During the war, children are considered as the most dangerous that middle-aged people, as they “have many years ahead of them in which to produce more offspring and renew ethnic group” (Sterling 2002, p.63). Such ideas were used during Nazi depopulation of Jewish. The main law of the war is “the violence of life, health and physical murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation or any other murder as well as cruel treatment” (Delupis 2000, p.319). Considering the paintings and photos of war, the comparison may be provided about their aims and destination. Battle of Menin Road by H. Septimus Power, 1917 (Appendix 1) in the picture, which shows the very duration of the war, the event is imprinted with the aim to show people how war is held and what people sustain. Moreover, watching this picture I have remembered my uncles, who had died during the Iran war. Living in Iran by myself, I saw influence, which was provided on people by the war pictures, their consolidation in the difficult time. Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937 (Appendix 4) is the representation of the consequences of Nazi invasion, the reaction, which is left by them, the pain, which was provided. One more picture is Roll of Honor bronze panel at the Australian War Memorial by Craig Tibbitts (Appendix 7) has the aim to remind people about the death of their friends, the death of others and not to give them forget. The same aim is of the poster Remember Dec. 7th! (Appendix 3). Analyzing the pictures given in the Appendix 1-7, the common theme is introduced there, WAR, and the same aim, not to give people to forget about terrible events of the war time and not to give the war start again. These pictures led me to the question: it is not enough of pain and disaster provided by the previous wars? Why people start them again?

In conclusion, visual art is one of the main deliverer of information, which may function as propaganda, as the reminder, the facility of communication, the identifier of some events and the facility to proclaim of some changes. Visual arts are perceived better that any audio information and that is why it is used rapidly. Politics is one of the main spheres, where visual arts are introduced. The other popular theme is war, and visual arts have mostly social character, and are aimed to remind people about that terrible time and wish never be repeated.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Year book, Australia (83), Aust. Bureau of Statistics, Victoria.

Carrier, D 2003, Writing about visual art, Allworth Communications, Inc.,

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Dijk, R 2008, Encyclopedia of the Cold War, Taylor & Francis, New York.

Salmon, M 2008, Opportunities in Visual Arts Careers, McGraw-Hill Professional, New York.

Sterling, EJ 2002, “Rescue and trauma: Jewish children and kinder transport during the Holocaust” in Children and war: a historical anthology by Marten, JA, NYU Press, New York.

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