Function of Art Rulers and governments use art to celebrate andspread their earthly power. Art is also used in war,either in creating weapons and armor for it or inmaking images that promote it. It also gives usimages of peacemaking and monuments for peace. Art can be an equally strong voice of protestagainst a government or against a social practice.People who are not in power can use art to art toaffirm their ideas and to protest against warfare,oppression, or political policy.
POWER, POLITICS, ANDGLORY Throughout human history, a vast amount of artworkhas promoted, popularized or propagandizedgovernments as well as those who lead them. Art has depicted war and helped shape our reactionto war. Art has also celebrated peace. Artists use devices for this function.
THE GLORY OF THERULERArtistic Devices The idealized image: the ruler’s face and/orbody are depictedwithout flaw and oftenincludes a wise ordignified demeanor.
THE GLORY OF THERULERArtistic Devices Symbols: details are included thatindicate omnipotence,authority, or divineblessing: some symbolsshow military or religiouspower
THE GLORY OF THERULERArtistic Devices Compositional devices: the ruler often occupiesthe center of a pictureand may be shownlarger than attendants orother figures; the ruler’sclothing may attractattention
WARWar is part of thehistory of mostcivilizations andcultures, and it is partof the story of power,politics, and glory.War Scenes Art can present war as amemorable, even glorious,action-filled event. Or artcan document battles fromvarious points of view.Finally art can emphasizethe horrors of war.
War MemorialsAn entire book could bedevoted to monumentalart dedicated to warvictories, battles, andthe dying. Maya Lin designed theVietnam VeteransMemorial in 1982. Names of the 58,000 menand women who died inthe war are carved on theblack granite surface.
PEACEWinged allegoricalfigures, doves, women,and pastorallandscapes havesymbolized peace inWestern art. Gardens,bells, and templesserve as monuments topeace in Asia, Europe,and the Americas.
SOCIALPROTEST/AFFIRMATION Many artists protest injustice with their artwork. They identify villains, honor heroes, and promotecauses with emotional and visual impact unequaledby the written word. Protest art is a form of affirmation, because it isbased on respect for human dignity and the beliefthat change is possible.
FIGHTING FOR THEOPPRESSEDArtists who fight for therights and affirm thevalues of economicallyor politically repressedpeoples use severalstrategies to make theirpoints more forcefully.These include beauty,illustration, narrative,humor and shock. Mostsocial protest worksare designed generallyto affect publicconsciousness, ratherthan to prescribespecific changes.
Strategies for ProtestingOppressionBeauty Beauty and excitementcan be very effectiveelements. In Eugène Delacroix’sLiberty Leading thePeople, Liberty has beenpersonified and made likea Greek goddess in herprofile and her idealizedbody.
Strategies for ProtestingOppressionIllustration Lewis Hine’s 1910photograph, Leo, 48Inches High, 8 Years Old,Picks Up Bobbins at 15¢ aDay, illustrated theinjustice of child labor.
Strategies for ProtestingOppressionNarrative Ben Shahn’s The Passionof Sacco and Vanzetti, is anarration of an unjust trialthat ended in theexecution of two men.
Strategies for ProtestingOppressionShock Cildo Meireles’ Insertionsinto Ideological Circuits:Coca-Cola Project in 1970was a shocking piece thatprotested the Braziliangovernment.
Strategies for ProtestingOppressionHumor Ester Hernandez’ SunMad is an example ofhumor.
Affirming the Values of theOppressedWhen a group of peopleis oppressed, their wayof life tends to bediscounted or ridiculed.Art is an especiallyeffective tool foraffirming the lifestylesand values of downtrodden groups. In 1533, Hans Holbein theYounger painted theportraits of Jean deDinteville and Georges deSelve (“TheAmbassadors”). DeDinteville was a politicalleader and de Selve areligious leader, but bothwere examples ofauthority which affirmedall things can be studiedunderstood andclassified (faith isfoolish).