Political Art Essay

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The cultural frame considers social issues such as politics, economics and environmental concerns. Meaning in cultural artworks is understood from a social perspective and may relate to such issues as race, cultural identity, multiculturalism, gender, beliefs and values. Artists usually reflect the issues in society may they be social, political, racial, environmental or sexual. Specific movements and styles have been produced as a result. There is a greater integration between art and community as art adopts a critical role in society. Traditional artists use to focus on the material practice, but postmodernism changed that as they focused on the concept and ideas. It is the idea that has come to dominate the form of much art and this has generated a pluralist where there are many approaches reflecting different issues. In a sense, all works of art perform a social function, since they are created for an audience. Artists who embrace their role as a social commentator are Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, Otto Dix and Gordon Bennett.

Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828) sets the scene commenting on the atrocities of man. Both of his works, Disasters of War (1863) and 3rd of May 1808 (1814) show graphically the horrors of mutilation, torture and death in war. He reflects the inhumanity that was occurring during the Spanish Revolution where innocent civilians were killed. Art during this time usually depicted soldiers as heroes and believed to be fighting for a good cause. Goya was one of the first artists to portray the true horrors of war. He became deaf halfway through his lifetime, which increased his understanding of emotions and expressions and his reliance of his other senses. Relying on documentaries and second hand accounts of war, Goya developed artworks of scenes of the Spanish revolution. He was unable to release his artworks until 8 years after the war, due to the fear of being executed, the fear that was created because of war. 3rd of May is a painting that depicts a scene of a French firing squad executing Spanish countrymen during the night. The colour scheme is quite muted with its dark blues and browns except for one figure: a man in white who has his arms raised, in a similar position like Jesus Christ. His eyes are wide with terror and beneath him are the bodies of already executed men. Around him are other men, some pray, some coil with fear and despair and the others cover the faces with their hands, unable to witness the brutal situation. The firing squads are faceless, making them seem anonymous and cold. Goya depicted the events that occurred to commemorate the Spanish spirit, but he does not glorify war. His works transcends time and place, continuously making a statement about man’s humanity to man. He was a major influence on European modernist artist who saw his loose painting style as a basis of their own Impressionism. The exploration of human action and emotion in madness and violence could also be seen as a later influence on Surrealism. Goya’s influence on Modernists was profound and can be seen in the works of both Otto Dix and Picasso.

A reference to Goya – the figure at the far right of the painting has its hands up, similar to the main focus point of Goya’s Third of May where he is a symbol or surrender. It draws similarity of the events, as they were both acts of savage brutality against innocent people. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) was one of the co-founders of Cubism, a modernist movement that focused on the colour and shape rather than realism. In Guernica (1973), he makes a similar comment on man’s inhumanity to man, like Goya, expressing his cry out against the murderous events that occur during warfare. The painting caused deep controversy, artistically and politically. Guernica was the event that was the catalyst for the painting, where the destruction of the Basque capital happened. Combined with the distorted imagery and colour scheme, the painting is confronting as the shapes,...
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