Topic 3: The art of persuasion: Propaganda, advertising and art

This topic explores the relationship between propaganda, art works and advertising.

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Propaganda – ‘images and text are deliberately used for the purpose of persuading a target audience to think in a particular way about specific issues’ (Cloud)

Advertising – propaganda to sway the target audience to form an opinion, and to gain some advantage to the advertiser (or the company or organisation employing the advertiser).

Art as Propaganda – visual art and images  are used widely to persuade, educate and convince at target audience.  Artists may produce propaganda (art with a message to influence the viewer) for their own ends, or for the purposes of a commission.  Artists have historically been linked to regimes and governments to produce propaganda to guide the people’s thinking – e.g. conscription posters for WWI, Nazi artists perpetuation of the super Aryan race, French artist David who worked with successive regimes – Napoleon, the revolutions, etc.

Examples given:

  • Picasso Guernica, (1937) a blatantly anti-war image – which was commissioned by the then socialist Spanish government.
  • Thomas Hart Benton, Antichrist of the Axis, 1941 – post Pearl Harbour
Thomas Hart Benson, Antichrist of the Axis, 1941 Image source:

How visual representations in propaganda benefit the propagandist

  1. Allow a wider audience through the universality of the visual over written text
  2. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ – images tell a more explicit message in less time.  May be less ambiguous, without the nuances of the languages of different cultures.
  3. Pictures have more emotional appeal than words.  People can place their own meanings to enrich the original image.  Helen Lyth, Lifestyle Choice (from work for Navigating the Visual World) Source:

Product placement – embedding a message in another product – e.g. Actors using a particular product, or brand, particular artists’ work on lifestyle make-over shows etc.  This familiarises the concept, product, political thought etc.


Kultur terror – poster  – Image Source:

  • Two other anti-war posters –

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Propaganda: War Posters

Propaganda has the purpose of changing opinion (or strengthening those already held).  War posters can be to promote the rightness of a particular side in a war, to recruit fighters or workers to the war effort, to educate the populace as to how to behave in war or, alternatively, bu anti-war.

A large number of war posters at at the following site.  Amazing Propaganda Posters

Images of posters to dissuade the occupying forces in Germany from engaging in sexual relations with local women, and one showing a woman ‘wanted for murder’ on the theme “Careless talk costs lives”.

Using women and children was found to be effective in getting men to enlist – the message being, unless you fight this war, your wives, mothers, and children are in peril.  (Similar to our current Prime Minister’s talk of ‘The Death Cult’ and “The war on terror”. )

Appropriation of other images/ideas in war posters

The eagle hovering over Hitler alludes to the dove (symbol for the holy ghost) hovering over Christ at his baptism – is used to give Hitler a god-like aura.  Image source:

From Cloud site:

Post War Politics

When World War I broke out in August 1914, many Expressionists initially believed it could be the apocalyptic event that would at last overthrow the self-satisfied materialism of the nation’s monarchy and bourgeoisie. Many artists enlisted for active duty or were drafted; others avoided the front lines by volunteering for the medical corps.

Access the german Expressionist works from the MOMA exhibition here 

For example:
Otto Dix, Skull (Schädel) from The War (Der Krieg),

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War, Art and Artists

Albert Tucker

Albert Tucker, Victory Girls Image source:

Sex with the vanquished is portrayed as one of the prizes of victory – degrading both the soldiers and the women so used.

The Allies red white and blue is highlighted in the women’s skirts and the big red V for victory mouths in skeletal faces with over-prominent teeth.

This is one of a series by Tucker – Images of Modern Evil

German Expressionism and War

Otto Dix, Skull, The War, 1924 Image Source:

The material and images on Deakin Cloud are taken from a MOMA exhibition about German Expressionism .  MOMA holds a large collection of German Expressionist works on the topic of war.

One thing of note that they show is the German side of the war – similarly depicted to the British view, but from a German perspective.

Karl Kaspar, Hit Soldier, 1915 Image Source:

Street Art and Banksy

Cloud image Banksy street art Image source:

Banksy’s street art often has a cynical, questioning view of the world.

Photo and War – The role of photojournalism in the Vietnam War

Three LIFE Magazine cover photos over early, mid and late 1965 are depicted.  The first two show injured US soldiers – supporting each other and looking after their own.  The third depicts Vietcong prisoner gagged and blindfolded with plumbing tape.  This third type of image – the enemy “brought to heel” is the type of image that, for many Americans brought the dawning reality of the reality that this was, an invasion by the US into a foreign country, within a civil war, was unconscionable.

War journalism is almost always partisan – (note the current Peter Greste, Al Jazeera case in Egypt – we see only one side).  The images are usually shown to put only one side’s view.

From within the conflict zone, troops, local citizens and others living within the conflict may take images, and write poetry and prose that tells of the genuine horrors – though this will be from their own perspective.

One example of a view that is counter to the prevailing Australian view on the US/Australian invasion of Afghanistan is that of Australian artist and film maker George Gittoes.


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