IMG_5996

The Social and Political Power of Art

In the 1930’s art transformed powerfully on a large political scale. Some artists took on the bourgeois of empire and industry, some took on the social realities of the Great Depression, while others took on war. As some artists changed their focus on social politics, giants of governments and wealthy empires went to war with art and the artists. It is with this era, in art history, that art became a powerful weapon against political propaganda.

By 1929 Diego Rivera had emerged on the American artist front as a frescos painter who was apart of the social art movement.[1] His frescoes had been exhibited in New York and peeked attention by the Rockefeller family.[2] The Rockefellers were one of the richest families in the United States at the time. Known for their rise through the Oil Industry, they were some of the few Americans, at the time, to build large scale buildings and employ many persons.[3] The Rockefellers enlisted several muralists to create works in the lobby of their RCA building, Rivera was one of the artist chosen for this task. Rivera took on this task and painted the mural, while staying true to his politics. In doing so he painted Lenin as the leader of a May Day workers demonstration.[4] This upset the Rockefellers, particularly Nelson Rockefeller, had dismissed Rivera, and destroyed the mural.[5] It was with the actions of both the artist and the American bourgeois that led to Rivera rising as a famed United State’s muralist, thus inspiring others American artists to continue on the same path.[6] One such artist was George Biddle, who aided Rivera’s cause by writing to President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for a mural program in the United States.[7] President Roosevelt accepted and created the WPA, thus paving the way for many other artists to express their political viewpoints with art, through government sponsorship.[8]

When the Great Depression was hitting many Americans hard, Artists continued to utilize their talents to aid the people and involve the government. Dorothea Lange had ventured forth in capturing the Great Depression. Armed with a camera and journal this American Photographer captured timeless images of the reality of the depression on the people of the United States.[9] She documented the truth about the government programs and the positive or negative effects the programs had in helping Americans.[10] Such photographs, by Lange, motivated the Federal government to send a field person out to the depression camps and witness the realistic claims made by Lange’s images.[11] Once realized by the government funding and action was taken to provide aid to the people. The power of photography helped to influence change by the United States’ government so to help the people.

On the European front the power of art was being counterattacked by leaders of States. In Germany, Adolf Hitler set forth to purify art, by attempting to rid Germany of modern art. He viewed modern art as degenerate and unworthy of appreciation by his country. To further demonstrate this Nazi regime, with Hitler, only allowed Nazi propaganda-style art, along with other select German art.[12] The choice art of the Nazis was displayed in the Great German Art Exhibitions.[13] To further example the intent of Hitler, regarding art, the exhibit called “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art), was opened.[14] This exhibition’s collection consisted of modern art works that were expropriated by the German government to be displayed in defamation to the art and artist’s character.[15] Several modern artists were required to be placed in exile, or run away from Germany in order to secure their lives. Artists Max Beckmann and Oscar Schlemmer were two such artists who were forced to flee.[16] The works of these arts were destroyed or sold to collectors abroad.[17] Art was under attack at the preliminary onset of World War I, as it was so powerful to the eyes of some leaders that it was viewed as a threat to their ideologies. Shortly thereafter, other artists would join the battle against such powerful regimes.

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, aided by allies Germany and Italy, bombed a small northern Spain town of Guernica. An estimated sixteen hundred people were wounded or killed during the air raids by the warplanes.[18] Prior to the bombing Pablo Picasso was requested to do a mural by the Spanish Democratic government, who opposed Franco’s fascist regime.[19] Picasso typically avoided getting involved in political matters.[20] However, after news had reached Paris of the devastation of Guernica, he quickly and tirelessly worked on a mural. This mural went down in history as one of the first and most moving anti-war paintings of all time. Picasso’s mural, titled ‘Guernica’ went to live on in numerous exhibition displays.[21] The power that this one work of art had on the world allowed the audience to not only sympathize with the innocence lost in war, but aided in bringing attention to the Spanish Civil war.[22] Since the creation of the mural ‘Guernica’ art historians and alike have produced many detailed interpretations of the mural. However, during the 1930’s ‘Guernica’, even received attention from Germany, who responded with slander of Picasso’s talent and his mural.[23] Although Germany viewed, yet another, work of art as a threat and belittled the work, the rest of the world had their eyes opened to the realism of fascism and war.[24]

Art has played in important part in world history. The power of art has been shown to upset powerful leaders and some members of the bourgeois. Whether the art is as close to reality as a photograph, or has implied realistic depiction, art allows a message to be brought to the forefront of those that view it. Works of art have been used as damaging propaganda, as seen with the Nazi Germany exhibitions, as well as a statement of people being oppressed, and even killed. The immense power that art possesses can aid in altering the paths leaders chose to take. Art is a powerful tool that can be utilized and dispersed by the artist and the communities that embrace or reject the art.


 

 

Bibliography

 

Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, and David Joselit. Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Post Modernism, Second Edition, Vol. 1, (New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.: 2011).

Anna Indych-Lopez. Beyond the Controversy: Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center Mural and the Politics of Space. In YouTube. 2014 January 1, 2016: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. 2016 July 14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOScty7zWe4.

Diego Rivera: Rivera in America, About the Artist. In American Masters. 2006, August 26, 2016: THIRTEEN: WNET. PBS.org. 2016 July 14, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/diego-rivera-about-the-artist/64/.

NPR. Dorothea Lange: ‘Daring to Look.’ in NPR Books. (2008 July 20). 2016: NPR. 2016, July 14. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92656801.

Art as Propaganda, in Research/History/Historical Documentation. Munich, Germany: Haus der Kuns. 2016 July 16. http://www.hausderkunst.de/en/research/history/historical-documentation/art-and-propaganda/.

Guernica: Testimony of War. in Guernica. Treasures of the World. 2016: PBS.org. 2016 July 19. http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html

[1] Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, and David Joselit, Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Post Modernism, Second Edition, Vol. 1, (New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.: 2011), 279.

[2] Ibid. 280.

[3] Anna Indych-Lopez, Beyond the Controversy: Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center Mural and the Politics of Space, In YouTube, 2014 January 1, 2016: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, 2016 July 14, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOScty7zWe4.

[4] Diego Rivera: Rivera in America, About the Artist, In American Masters, 2006, August 26, 2016: THIRTEEN: WNET, PBS.org, 2016 July 14, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/diego-rivera-about-the-artist/64/.

[5] Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, and David Joselit, Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Post Modernism, Second Edition, Vol. 1, (New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.: 2011), 282.

[6] Ibid. 282.

[7] Diego Rivera: Rivera in America, About the Artist, In American Masters, 2006, August 26, 2016: THIRTEEN: WNET, PBS.org, 2016 July 14, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/diego-rivera-about-the-artist/64/.

[8] Ibid.

[9] NPR, Dorothea Lange: ‘Daring To Look,’ in NPR Books (2008 July 20), 2016: NPR, 2016, July 14, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92656801.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Art as Propaganda, in Research/History/Historical Documentation, Munich, Germany: Haus der Kuns, 2016 July 16, http://www.hausderkunst.de/en/research/history/historical-documentation/art-and-propaganda/.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Guernica: Testimony of War, in Guernica, Treasures of the World, 2016: PBS.org, 2016 July 19, http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s