- Give some thought to the possible social, cultural or political meanings of artworks. Does art and design always reflect the social, cultural of political climate of the time ?
- Give at least two 20h C examples to support the answer.
Throughout the history of art there are examples of Art and Design having been influenced by political, social or a cultural influence. It’s hard to determine accurately if Art always reflects these influences but I feel reasonably sure that it would do, sometimes it may be a clear influence and at other times more subtle. Many works of art express the political, social, and economic conditions of the time period in which they were created as artists do not work within a void or vacuum and see and absorb information throughout their everyday lives. Political culture is the collective view of people regarding the current political issues and news and the effects that this creates in our everyday lives, Social climate, society’s overall feelings towards what is happening at that time and the cultural climate is the environment in which we live our lives, our beliefs and moralities passed from generation to generation. All of these have an effect to one extent or another.
During the first half of the 20th century the social and political upheaval caused by the two world wars had, nor surprisingly and huge influence on art and design at that time. Concentrating on Britain initially the period between WW1 and WW2 was a time of hope, opulence and high design during the “roaring twenties” and was a reaction to the turbulent times of war. The Art Deco movement ( 1925-1940), which carried on through to the years leading up to the start of the Second World war ( 1939 – 1945) but soon suffered a decline and it was seen to be gaudy and ostentatious for war time austerity, had embraced all types of art and craft as well as fine arts. It was applied to decorative arts like interior design, jewellery, textiles, fashion and industrial design.
In fine art terms, making a living from selling art was very difficult during the political war years but in the face of adversity some artists adapted their practice. John Piper, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland being fine examples of this each showing a different response to the political matters of the time.
Graham Sutherland painted pictures of bombed out buildings under the collective title “Devastation” – the pictures being dark, bleak and depressing sometimes using visual metaphors due to the restrictions placed upon him about not recording the cost of human life. He was employed directly by the government and worked within political guidelines. By contrast John Piper’s paintings, who was also part of the War Artist Advisory Scheme, were of the aftermath of the bombing raids and concentrated on the parts that had survived and contained much more colour and a feeling of hope through survival. Henry Moore created many sketches of Londoners sheltering from the raids in deep underground railway tunnels. These showed the social culture and tight community bonding between every day Londoners and their strength and determination to survive – something the government had miss judged as they did not make sufficient provision for such people believing them not to have the moral fibre to withstand the war and emerge from such shelters. Henry Moore went on to use one of his drawings as a symbol for belief in humanity in a design for a “Propaganda scarf” which he produced after the war in collaboration with Arnold Lever.
By Contrast to WW1 when women sent their men folk to war and then waited for their return, in WW2 women moved into the industrial workplace to contribute to the war effort and soon as a result of Health and safety issues, head scarves were a standard part of their uniform to tie back hair and prevent machine related accidents. Head scarves soon evolved into items of political propaganda and were designed as such to carry symbolic and patriotic meanings. Arnold Lever was the chief designer at Jacqmar of London based in high class Mayfair and he and they as a company created many designs around the armed forces, allies and the home front and were intended to be items of exchange between war time London sweethearts and therefore “ spreading the message”. The scarves are a little well known aspect of British front propaganda but interesting to include it here within a textile context.
After the war Arnold
Lever worked with Henry Moore and continued the headscarves project as a celebration
of victory and Moore’s “Family Groups” sketch inspired the scarf design below.
During the post war years Britain struggled to recover economically and so during the summer of 1951, the then Labour Government organised a national exhibition called the Festival of Britain with the intention of giving Britons a feeling of recovery and progress in the aftermath of the war and also to promote the British contribution to science, technology and also more design influenced areas like industrial design, architecture and the arts in general. This idea soon became one of a political nature and so art and design was still being created and promoted with political undertones. Lucienne Day’s design works, one of the artists featured in the Festival of Britain, captured the spirit of the time and are borne from political roots and in her own words “it came from our political beliefs” (said in an interview with Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian some years later).
In the 1960’s Pop art was at its height in terms of popularity and was a way of celebrating consumerism (and therefore social culture) as commercial products were no longer hand crafted. Pop art used images of everyday objects and presented them in a different light. Pop art in simple terms mirrored the modern culture of the modern world.
Keith Haring was a 1980s Pop artist and social activist, whose work responded to the New York street culture of the 80’s as well as political issues by conveying the dangers of drug abuse, the effects of AIDS, sexuality, nuclear weapons and war.
The following 2 examples of Haring’s work clearly demonstrate such messages and references to street culture.
“Crack is Whack” a mural on a handball court in New York City painted in 1986 and was Haring’s reaction to the crack epidemic on the streets. He was created without permission and intended to serve as a warning to all of its devastating effects. The unauthorized artwork cost Haring a fine but the publicity attracted even more attention to his anti-crack message and resulted in the mural being placed into the jurisdiction of the City Department of Parks as recognition of the validity of the message.
“Silence=Death” is universally agreed as work of AIDS activism. Influenced by the ancient Japanese philosophy of the three wise monkeys which portrays that seeing and saying nothing is virtuous, Haring counters that belief by stating its opposite. In this 1989 piece of work he illustrates that by keeping silent and not speaking up about HIV that you are an accomplice to death.
To sum up, reflecting on the examples I have used I do feel that the ever changing approaches to art and design do go hand in hand with changes in culture, with technology for example, and with political and social issues as these effect our everyday lives. Art captures the spirit of the time that it is created within and as a final note, but falling outside of the 20th century and only mentioned to crystallise my thinking, the art of “today” is still influenced by political issues, continued war conflicts and pressing issues such as debt, climate change and resource depletion.
http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/18985/lot/32/ information about Hnery Moore’s drawing
http://www.meg-andrews.com/antique/20th-C-Artist-Designer-Textiles/6 gave me lead to propaganda scarves
http://artothings.blogspot.co.uk/2008_01_01_archive.html – some leads to look at John Piper and Graham Sutherlands work