Pablo Picasso “Guernica”
There are important distinctions between art and propaganda. Although both are forms of visual communication, their aims are completely different. Great art explores the mysteries of human experience. Propaganda seeks to influence an intellectual decision by stirring up obscuring clouds of emotionalism. Strong art reaches universal, shared experience by honestly presenting the results of self-exploration. Propaganda seeks to substitute that universal appeal with the presentation of ideology it assumes to be commonly held by all right-thinking people. But what if the audience doesn’t share the same convictions, or are indifferent to them? Then the art fails to connect, falls flat. The more blatantly political a work is, the smaller its audience will be. Our contemporary cultural institutions’ strident advocacy is big part of why the visual arts art are suffering such a crisis of relevance now.
EDIT FEBRUARY 10, 2021: The full article I wrote and linked to in 2014 was on a site which no longer exists. Read the revised, updated version here: PROPAGANDA VERSUS ART