Topic 3

Nigel Spivey, How art made the world – 3 – The art of persuasion, video, BBC, London

  • Analogy between ancient leaders use of art and visual strategies to the George Bush campaign fof the US presidency today.
    • Used world trade centre disaster images of Obama at ground zero. – the President exuded strength and caring.
    • The presidential speech – symbols of power – the flag, eagle crest etc.
    • President places slightly above the crowd
  • Early leaders in tribal cultures didn’t need to advertise as they were known (often family members), but as societies got bigger, leaders used visual imagery and mystique to show themselves to the people and to cement their leadership positions.
    • Images of rock art
    • Britain – belief that Stonehenge is about politics – finding of a burial site near the henge – the grave was bronze age – 2500 years BC. – and around 100 objects and bones – the objects included :
      • 2 pieces of gold – ornaments (hair clasps?) – ‘probably the greatest treasures that anyone possessed in the British Isles [at that time]’
      • Whose were they – examination of the skeleton (male) – found the person was central European – sea journey in corracle or dugout canoe.
      • This person could process raw metals – the artefacts compared to the crown jewels of their time.
      • Images of how the man may have looked in real life – ornamental clothing and the gold hair ornaments – would have mesmerised the populace
    • This man showed that art as personal adornment can lift a person above their peers. The prehistoric man in the grave knew this, and used it to attain supremacy over the locals.
    • This man was alive at about the time of the building of Stonehenge – which may have been ‘the ultimate symbol of his power… – art had become a political tool.’
  • This was also happening in other parts of the world – e.g. Egypt (pharaohs, pyramids), Mesopotamia – images of artefacts, jewellery, buildings etc. ‘had a magical effect’ – ‘There was a catch – it was hard for leaders of large kingdoms to show themselves to all their subjects Darius – king of Persia – Persepolis (Iran – a wonder of the ancient world) – 2500 years ago – the heart of Darius’s empire including millions of people. A new message – Peace rather than war, peace and cooperation – ‘I am justice, and have been asked by God to promote this’ – Darius spread the word – the images of Persepolis have elements from all over the empire. Ambassadors from every part of the kingdom came to the capital yearly – they would have seen these images – their own peoples in their national costumes. Shown happy to honour Darius. The ambassadors took back the message that they were respected by their leader, and protected by him. Darius solution to bringing this to the whole populace – Darius depicted as carrying a bow – the bowman – a familiar image – the meaning of the archer is a symbol of military prowess and leadership, good control of the people. (‘The first ever political logo’. 150 years later Alexander the Great from Macedonia defeated this empire – and he used the logo (his own image) – the first life-like representation of the king – the birth of the political portrait – made before Alexander became king – Alexander’s image had been designed for him before the battles which led to Alexander’s supremacy.   Alexander exploited this image – shows a mosaic of a battle found at Pompeii – Slexander shown as strong, fearless, the Persian king cringing, afraid.
  • Alexander used his face (rather than the whole image) as a potent image. Science shows we look at faces over symbols. The face has more impact. (Outlines an experiment which showed this).   Need to reproduce the image and distribute it widely. The solution was the use of his image on coinage – this concept is still used today. These coins lived on after his death, giving subsequent leaders some of his strength and power.
  • g. images of kings and queens, army chiefs etc., government leaders – with their riches – crowns, fine clothing
  • This led from imagery to be an instrument of mass deception – propaganda which tells a political lie – First used in Rome – 40BC – (Roman empire) – unrest in Rome – clothing differentiated the two factions – the republicans (traditionalists who wore trad. clothing), and the monarchists (wanted a powerful, ostentatious king, more exotic, way-out clothing) – The rise of Octavian (Caesar Augustus) – came from the monarchist faction – showed the Republicans that he was also a traditionalist – his artists changed the image to a new look (even though the reality was different) – a new look – which he had copied and sent around the empire. His power and fame remained – but there was still divisiveness in Rome – A new statue – Augustus pointing skywards – shows him as a powerful general, arm is a gesture of statesmanship, bare feet (not military boots), ‘The ultimate political art’ – the breastplate contains an image of Augustus accepting the surrender of an enemy, with the Gods approving. This gave the Roman Republicans an image that made them accept him as leader – unifying the two camps of Rome. However, the great ‘peacemaker’ was in reality assassinating those who opposed him. Led to 400 years of Roman supremacy in Europe and northern Africa.
  • Dictators throughout the world continue to use art to sway the populace – to hate, to lead nations to war, make some people ‘less than human’ – so they may be annihilated with impunity.
  • Happens today – with great subtlety. This is always at the forefront of the technology available.



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