Kathe Kollwitz

 

INTRODUCTION

 

For those of you who have heard the expressions "the pen is mightier than the sword" and "a picture is worth a thousand words", this Web Quest will consider how the paintbrush has been used as an effective force in economic, political and social propaganda. We will look at how the censorship of ideas and of people has led to political and religious conflicts and war. The German painter, Otto Dix, once said, "The painter is the eyes of the world."

Visual images are not just pretty pictures. They leave haunting impressions when they reflect the inhumanity of man. Claude Monet's exquisitely painted Water Lilies with their delicate colors contrast with the emotion evoked in Edvard Munch's dramatic painting, The Scream, or with the drama of a firing squad in Francisco Goya's frightening Third of May and Pablo Picasso's abstract war mural, Guernica. These are powerful paintings, which are recognized today for their importance to society and are protected as cultural treasures in national museums. They have withstood the critics' scorn. Who makes these selections and with what criteria?

Common images, symbols like the Nike swoosh, the cross, the swastika, the arch and the flag are icons of the 20th century culture which promotes stereotypes to sell products and ideologies. Because of the power of the image to persuade, art and artists have been used as a tool for cultural propaganda. Artists are either accepted for their work and encouraged to promote the ideas and images of the society, or if they challenge the social and political agenda of the culture, may find themselves criticized, censored and often exiled. Keep in mind that a democracy thrives on the checks and balances of opposing points of view, whereas a dictatorship only survives when there is one point of view.

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