Political Art

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  • Topic: 20th century, Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808
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Art as a Political Statement:
Political Art in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Philip Simoneau

Art 144: Modern Art History
November 15, 2006

The visual artist plays a very unique role in society. Not only can an artist be inspired by his surrounding culture, but in fact, he can also inspire his surrounding culture. In this way, artwork can have a profound affect on society. Artists throughout history have been inspired by a variety of different circumstances. Whether it is personal relationships, morality, social, or political issues, art is influenced through every facet of our lives. It can also be said that art itself can equally influence these aspects of our world. There have been many artists throughout the ages that have recognized this powerful idea and have used it to their advantage. None, however, are more apparent than those artists who have exercised this power to make political statements. The political artist has undoubtedly played a very important role in our world, and their artwork is evidence of the fact. I will compare and contrast, through use of examples, how artists of the 19th and 20th centuries have used their art as a political statement. As the 19th century began, we saw the Neoclassical period draw to an end and give way to Romanticism. Although he did most of his work before the turn of the century, Jacques-Louis David is one Neoclassical artist who recognized his influence in the political scene. David, "who was the official artist of the Revolutionary Government" (Gombrich 485), mainly used his artwork as political propaganda for Napoleon's military campaign. In 1801 he painted Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard (Stokstad 470) which depicts an idealized Napoleon on a great white horse, decorated in heroic outfit. Instead of depicting him on a donkey, which is what really occurred, David chose to highlight the heroic event by placing him on a grand white steed instead. By using his artwork in this form, David...
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