Propaganda in Art (Definition)

This is an easy to read definition of propaganda art… IN PLAIN ENGLISH!!!

Plus, this post also includes images of posters as examples.

Contents

  1. A Simple Definition of Propaganda
    • What is propaganda?
    • What is propaganda used for?
  2. Propaganda in Art (Definition)
    • Negative propaganda examples (posters)
    • Positive propaganda examples (posters)

This post is going to focus on the visual arts and propaganda. More specifically, I’m going to be showing you positive and negative forms of propaganda art using posters.

But before we look at propaganda posters, let’s first look at a simple definition of propaganda.

What is propaganda?

In plain English, the meaning of propaganda is this:

  • Propaganda is spreading one-sided or dishonest information to a group of people.
  • The information is created to convince people to think, feel, and act a certain way. Propaganda can also be created to convince people to believe a specific point of view.
  • It’s hard to tell whether the information is true or false.
  • The message often comes from an exaggerated idea.
  • The information can be confusing and unfair.
  • Propaganda can spread positive or negative information.
  • The word propaganda is from the Latin word “propagare”. This means to propagate (to spread and promote an idea widely).

Propaganda is as old as human history. But when World War I began in 1914, the word propaganda became commonly used in the United States.

A propagandist is someone who creates or spreads propaganda. They are intentionally taking part in spreading information with the aim of influencing people.

It’s the propagandist’s intention that separates propaganda from other similar activities such as advertising and education.

What Is Propaganda Used For?

Propaganda is often used during wars.

  • Propaganda can help people stay calm and happy by telling them that their country is fighting well and that the enemy is being defeated.
  • Sometimes propaganda tries to make people hate the enemy by making the enemy appear evil or inhuman.
  • A government can give propaganda to the enemy. Usually, the intent is to make the enemy feel like the war will crush them and they will stop fighting.

Propaganda can still be used when there’s no war.

  • Propaganda can be used to influence what people think about a political movement.
  • A group may try to change the way people act towards causes, like environmental, wildlife, and conservation issues.
  • A religion or cult can use propaganda in order to convince people to believe and act a certain way.

Propaganda in Art (Definition)

Propaganda using art has been used to influence the way people think and act since the beginning of human history.

When people think of propaganda, they often think of it as serving an entirely negative, harmful purpose.

Propaganda is usually thought of as only carrying negative qualities.

Yet, the term propaganda was originally a neutral term. Propaganda is the spreading of information in favor of any given cause, positive or negative.

In other words, the term propaganda should not have a positive or negative reaction to it.

But if it is used to influence people to think and act in positive ways, propaganda can be labeled as positive. Likewise, if it used to belittle and hurt others, it can be labeled as negative.

So let’s take a look at examples of negative and positive propaganda in art.

Negative Propaganda Examples (Posters)

Throughout history, violence aimed at specific groups of people have happened over and over again.

For example, cruel behavior towards a group of people can be based on things like:

  • race
  • religion
  • gender
  • nationality
  • ethnicity

… just to name a few.

Massacres, slavery, and sexual violence are only some ways people have tortured other people. But for these types of behaviors to happen on a large scale, the targeted group must first be represented as less than human.

The offenders commonly use art to help them reach their goals.

Here are a few examples of negative propaganda in posters:

Kultur-Terror (Liberators)

Kultur-Terror (Liberators) - Propaganda Poster

The Kultur-Terror (Liberators) propaganda poster (Amazon) was designed by a Norwegian cartoonist, Harald Damsleth in 1944.

About this poster:

  • This is an anti-American propaganda poster used by the Nazi party during WWII.
  • Kultur-Terror translates to Culture Terror, implying that the destructive, American enemy is going to destroy Europe’s heritage and culture.
  • This poster portrays the U.S. as a greedy, gun-carrying monster that’s nothing but immoral, dangerous, and sex-obsessed.

Der Feind sieht Dein Licht! Verdunkeln!

Der Feind sieht Dein Licht! Verdunkeln! (The enemy sees your light! Blackout!) - Propaganda Poster

The Der Feind sieht Dein Licht! Verdunkeln! (The enemy sees your light! Blackout!) propaganda poster was designed by Sander-Herweg in 1943.

About this poster:

  • This is a poster used by the Germans during WWII.
  • The evil, bomb-throwing skeleton in this poster represents the Allies (the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, the Soviet Union, China).
  • This poster reminded people that if the air raid sirens blew, they had to turn out their lights. It was believed that if the enemy couldn’t see their targets, navigation and raids would be more difficult.

Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds

Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds - Propaganda Poster

The Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds propaganda poster (Amazon) was designed by F. Strothmann in 1918.

About this poster:

  • This is an anti-German propaganda poster used by Americans during WWI.
  • The American government wanted its citizens to buy Liberty Bonds (a war bond that helped support military operations and other costs during WWI).
  • The terrifying monster in the poster represents the Hun, which was slang for the Germans in WWI. Using the derogatory term Hun, which relates to a barbaric people, stressed the idea that the Germans were barbarians.
  • The monster was used to instill fear of the enemy and make the American people buy Liberty Bonds to help the military.

Positive Propaganda Examples (Posters)

As I mentioned earlier, propaganda can also be used effectively to spread positive messages.

Examples of positive propaganda are:

  • health recommendations
  • healthy eating ads
  • anti-smoking and anti-drug use ads
  • information on vaccines
  • don’t drive and drive ads
  • public service announcements (PSAs)
  • inspiring people to vote
  • anti-hate and anti-bullying ads
  • during wars or similar conflict, propaganda can promote a sense of support and unity in a group of people

Here are a few examples of positive propaganda in posters:

I Want You

I Want You - Uncle Sam Propaganda Poster

The I Want You propaganda poster (Amazon) was designed by James Montgomery Flagg in 1917.

  • Uncle Sam’s eye contact and pointing at the viewer is used to influence the viewer to act and go to the nearest recruiting station.
  • Uncle Sam’s image has been used since the early 1800s but this poster made him an icon.
  • This poster was used for the recruitment drive in both WWI and WWII.
  • This is a remake of a popular British recruitment poster that featured Lord Kitchener (see image on Amazon).

We Can Do It!

We Can Do It! - Propaganda Poster

The We Can Do It! propaganda poster (Amazon) was designed by artist J. Howard Miller in 1942.

About this poster:

  • During WWII, this poster was used by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in February 1943.
  • Contrary to popular belief, this poster was not popular across the country during WWII. It only became popular in the early 1980s.
  • Myth: Many people today think that the goal of this artwork was to motivate women to take wartime jobs in defense industries.
  • Truth: The propaganda poster was used by Westinghouse to raise worker morale and to influence female employees to work harder.
  • When the war ended, many women were forced to hand over their jobs to returning veterans.

Hope

Hope (Barack Obama) - Propaganda Poster

The Hope propaganda poster (Amazon) was designed by American street artist, Shepard Fairey, in 2008.

About this poster:

  • This is an iconic, pro-Obama propaganda poster used during the 2008 presidential election campaign.
  • In this poster, Obama appears focused as he’s observing something in the distance. This is supposed to make people feel like that something Obama is seeing is hope for the country in the near future.
  • Many people thought the years of the Bush presidency were demoralizing. This poster’s goal was to make Americans think they would have a better future if they voted for Barack Obama.