Victory stele of Naram-sin
This paper will compare art from the Early Dynastic period of warring city states with art of the Akkadian Empire in order to see whether there are any recognizable patterns in representation that show the developing political ideologies, identities and intentions of the ruling powers of the times. It is my contention that much art was used as propaganda, probably to an increasing degree, and that this stimulate a new mastery of realism and composition. Propaganda has been defined as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or hindering an institution, cause or person.” As Toby Clark in his book Art and Propaganda in the Twentieth Century has pointed out, since the First World War the word “propaganda” has taken on increasingly negative connotations, and has been associated with closed and totalitarian governments.  Those, however, who use or make art for its propaganda potential do not look at their own art, or the art they use, in this way. Leon Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution, stated that: “Our Marxist conception of the objective social dependence and social utility of art, when translated into the language of politics, does not at all mean a desire to dominate art by means of decrees and orders” even though decrees and the Revolution would not stop at “laying its hand on any tendency in art which, no matter how great the achievement in form, threatens to disintegrate the revolutionary environment or to arouse the internal forces of the Revolution…to a hostile opposition to one another.”  The essence of the Revolution, according to Trotsky, was an illumination of the real nature of life leading to its eventual improvement. Life, personified, says “I must have an artist of a single love. Whatever way you take hold of me, whatever tools and instruments created by the development of art you choose, I leave to you, to your temperament and your genius. But you must understand me as I am, you must take me as I will become, and there must be no one else besides me.” On the other hand, Stuart Davis, an American, writes of culture which is “…degraded and forced to serve mean… nationalistic ends” and of “Fascist-like acts of suppression, for ideological and political reasons.” Thus it seems that one man’s use of art for social betterment is, to another in an opposing political camp, a perversion of the aims of art and the suppression of its role as free communication. Thus ‘propaganda’ in modern usage is to an extent relative. However, one thing emerges consistently from modern sources. That is: an idea that when a work of art is used for propaganda the artist’s options, for better or worse, are limited and there is a strong implication that the resulting work will be curtailed in its power, complexity and richness as art. This is because it does not exist as an object for aesthetic contemplation but for communicating ideas to be developed outside of itself. Propaganda art is looked upon as crude and base. The general idea of artistic merit versus propaganda merit can have little significance to us here as the concept of art for art’s sake probably did not exist in Early Dynastic and Akkadian times. It would be well to recognize that the dictum that art produced primarily to serve extra-aesthetic ends is of necessity inferior in quality is a modern assumption and should not color this investigation of Sumerian and Akkadian propaganda art. An idea of more significance should be introduced at this point. Jonathon Harris, in his introduction to volume II of the Marxist art historian Arnold Hauser’s The Social History of Art, summarizes one of the books most supportable ideas: “the significance of art as a form of state propaganda can hardly be underestimated in this period which saw the creation of nation-states that integrated, homogenized, and centralized spheres of economic, political and cultural power hitherto...
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