Notes for Final COP Essay 1

Compare and contrast two or more examples where visual communication has been used to critique society or effect social change

  • Art and Politics, Claudia Mesch:

‘This art is explicit in its combative stance, or in its tone of political dissent, and does not shrink from making direct reference to the social problems and issues that are unique to the postwar era.’ – Page 1.

‘In its broadest sense political art seeks two things: to comment on, and also to elicit a reaction to, an issue or development that is of current concern to a social group in the decision-making process that is politics.’ – Page 12.

‘Socialist realism had, as a goal, the depiction of the revolutionary advancement and victory of the industrial and rural working class…’ – Page 16.

‘According to Zhdanov it is the duty of art to reveal, through an easily understandable depiction of everyday reality, evidence of the steady progress of the working class to a position of social and economic power.’ – Page 16.

*** Eddie Adam’s Saigon Execution – Page 85…***


  • Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek

Responding to meaning in art – page 6. Guernica reference.

The way we comprehend and appreciate the ‘rightness’ of art and design depends upon the ‘meaning with which we invest’

“Design must be meaningful. And “meaningful” replaces such semantically loaded expressions as “beautiful,” “ugly,” “cute,” “disgusting,” “glamorous,” “realistic,” “obscure,” “abstract,” and “nice,” labels convenient to a bankrupt mind when confronted by Picasso’s “Guernica,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater,” Beethoven’s “Eroica,” Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps,” Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake”. In all of these we respond to that which has meaning.” – Page 6.


  • Peace Signs: The Anti-War Movement Illustrated by James Mann

Foreword – page 4.

Anti-war art can be “sobering, sometimes frightening, often hilarious.” – Page 4.

“But those images can wake us up, can cause us to think, to feel, and hopefully to act.” – Page 4.

“The artist in opposition to war has taken a moral stand and has acted as a global citizen – one who is concerned with the human rights of all people and the lives of all soldiers.” – Page 5.

Before camera invention (pre 1837), war was depicted through paintings, which can capture scenes in some way  but never showed the realities, feeling/emotions of victims and tragic atrocities that a photograph captures in that split second the shutter opens and closes. War was depicted as “heroic and honourable” by artists who were commissioned by those in power – page 5.

War art can also be used to “dehumanize and demonize the enemy”, depicting enemy soldiers as “monsters, thieves or rapists”.

Some nations in the past have “employed drastic forms of state censorship using art as a means to convey an illusion, a version of society that was far from reality.” “Socialist realism was ushered in by Joseph Stalin in Russia” He also “outlawed abstract art and individual expression by artists”, instead they were to “portray the official party doctrine through paintings and monumental sculptures” – Page 6.

Iraq War of 2003. Anti-war graphics were “more prevalent than ever”. “The reasons are complex and have a lot to do with access to technology, an unpopular war and world opinion against the only remaining super power.” Page 6.

“With the influx of computer design programs, scanners and photocopy machines, nearly any person with an idea could create a thought-provoking visual statement.” Page 6.

“Instead of relying on a handful of well-known political artists, an inclusive mass movement was born.”

Copy-right free graphics sped up distribution. “copyleft” – anyone can use image for free as long as iy’s not for profit.

Bypassed galleries and museums, message and speed of delivery to audience was more important than profit.

Colours – red and black = danger, death, blood, oil, anti-capitalism. Bright colours used ironically. Monochrome used as cheap and easily reproduced.

***Possible idea – NO WAR! By Alan Hughes. Baghdad war, Page 61***

***Possible idea – Untitled by Luis Miguel Munilla. Page 62***

***Possible idea – Don’t Buy It by Kimberly Cross. Page 77***

“other posters encourage consumer boycotts” – Page 52.

“these images imply a relationship between war and the products of first world consumer society and ask people to break their daily routines and take a stand against military injustice” – Page 52.


  • System Error: war is a force that gives us meaning curated by Lorenzo Fusi and Naeem Mohaiemen.

Makes the point that Iraq war, for Americans and Britons, is an “overseas career choice”, there is no conscription and only reason to go there is by signing up to do so. Therefore the everyday person does not necessarily experience the war in anyway (apart from loved ones going to fight etc). So realities of war must be brought to them. Page 52.


  • Art and Social Change edited by Will Bradley and Charles Esche.

“the role of photographic ‘truth’ has been successfully questioned to the point where nobody really believes anything they see” page 415. From Time Capsule by Lucy R. Lippard.


  • Art and War by Laura Brandon.

“television had taken the war into living rooms in most countries…” – page 1.

 “’War art’ means art shaped by war… war inspires permanent and impermanent art that may be propaganda, memorial, protest, and/or record.” – page 3.

“The idea that the meaning a viewer derives from a work is as much about his or her reaction to the piece as about the work itself is appropriate for war art.” – page 5/6.

Discussion of sensationalising some scenes and events, the artist may have experienced war but has then left the war zone and returned home to create art which could then be exaggerated, questions validity.

“The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office initiated the national war art scheme in late August 1914, when it set up a secret government department known as Wellington House to manage and disseminate British propaganda” – page 39.

Photography not widely used in WWI as heavy equipment and long exposure times prevent action shots, painters were generally far from the action, paintings showing injured/killed soldiers were generally forbidden or censored.

Throughout Vietnam war, “Artists increasingly protested against war rather than accepting commissions lauding the successes of conflict – a trend that started in 1964 with the War Artists and Writers Protest Group opposing the Vietnam War.” – page 78.

US military forces sent artists to cover war but in traditional and documentary styles.


  • General Points:

Some artists subconsciously create political art or art with a message whereas others actively pursue a strong message within their work.

Voiced sharp criticism.

Dada movement formed in response to atrocities of WWI, opposed militarism, nationalism and colonialism.

Technology, mainly the internet, has revolutionised role of artists, anyone can produce a piece of art, originally or using existing pieces, and distribute it so much more quickly by simply posting it on the internet.

‘oppositional art’

One of few genres of art that is very accessible as war art is just as likely to be created by an anonymous protester as it is a famous artist.

***Daddy, what did you do in the Great War? By Savile Lumley***


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