“Propaganda Prints: A History of Art in the Service of Social and Political Change” by Colin Moore
In the book Propaganda Prints: A History of Art in the Service of Social and Political Change, Colin Moore investigates the impact and role that propaganda had in the manipulation and influence of the political and social views on various issues throughout history. Moore covers the ancient world, the Middle Ages and early modern periods before the machine age. Information is provided about the political changes due to propaganda as well as society’s view on it and the changing opinions over time. The developments in design and also the techniques that were used in propaganda across history are delved into as well. Moore explores the different events in history briefly, including the wars and revolutions up until recent digital art propaganda such as the Obama Hope poster. Compared to other books regarding the impact of propaganda, he effectively covers many different areas in history and includes what is happening around the world instead of focusing on the western art, which is what most propaganda art history focuses on. He briefly discusses each topic but he skips over many years and important events as well. Moore could have expanded on the depth of information regarding each event and taken out the current affairs as it would have allowed for inclusion of the years which he skipped from the Vietnam War up until the Digital Age.
Moore goes on in his introduction about the association with the regimes of Stalin and the Nazi’s and how it confirmed that propaganda was solidified as a word with a negative connotation and the messages portrayed would be unreliable. He states that it is ‘half-truth with hidden persuasion and distortion, producing unaccountable and untrustworthy messages’. The progression of propaganda becoming unreliable is depicted by Moore as portraits of Hitler and various forms of Nazi propaganda in poster style, the way he chose his selection of images is important because he did not pick the ones which are not so commonly found in textbooks. He went out of his way to find less known pictures that are different to the norm. This shows that Moore has a clear definition of propaganda in his mind and it sways the analysis throughout his work surrounding Nazi Germany and World War II.
A key period in history where propaganda was utilized is during World War I. Moore specifically writes about the propaganda at the time that was in Europe and America and was used propaganda as a medium to encourage the country and to bring the public into action. He believes this was achieved by stereotyping the enemy to portray a negative display of them within the minds of the public and this made all propaganda more successful as there would already be stereotyped views of the enemy in their minds. An example of this is ‘Beat Back the Hun’ by Frederick Strothmann, created in 1918 which portrays a German soldier as a blood thirsty creature shown in a dark silhouette, coming to take away the freedoms of Americans. The poster’s title makes it the responsibility of the viewer to eradicate the Hun, encouraging the public to enlist. Moore states that Britain was unprepared for the war and because of that, their main priority was to create propaganda for encouraging enlisting of the public. Propagandists who produced work surrounding World War I are portrayed by Moore as exploiters of public fear and love. They are shown to be in control of the public, using their designs to generate the desired responses. In Britain, instead of playing around with fear and love, propaganda utilized powerful figures to encourage the public to do things. For example, Lord Kitchener was used as the figure in ‘The London Opinion’ saying “Your country needs you”, as he points outwards toward the reader, imposing the responsibility to them. The powerful face of Lord Kitchener along with his plea for help draws an emotional response from the public and emphasizes the sense of urgency related to the country’s need for troops.
Moore briefly describes and shows a few works of each era and it is effective that he covered such a vast majority of information in such a short span. He added some pictures which are well known but also a lot which are more uncommon and he did not pick the stereotypical ones which we would expect. The downfall however, he tries to fit so much information into the book, whilst being important, he could have spent more time on each topic, he skims the surface of various parts of history. The book has a vast range but lacks depth, which prevents detailed learning. The current digital era is out of place in regards to ancient civilizations and after the Vietnam war and Moore could have added something more meaningful after Vietnam such as America’s anti-Soviet propaganda in the 1980s which brought back themes from the Cold War. As technology improves, the propaganda forms also changed and were more in the forms of films and media as opposed to iconic posters. Although, there are still forms of poster propaganda in the current day such as the Obama ‘Hope’ design by Shepherd Fairey which Moore briefly covers towards the end.
Colin Moore’s book Propaganda Prints: A History of Art in the Service of Social and Political Change encompasses a wide range of events throughout history and shines a light upon the propaganda surrounding each event and the purpose of them in shifting the opinions of people to cause change or empower. Moore touches upon a couple key events such as the two World Wars and he conveys his analysis of the propaganda and the effect it had on people at the time. There is, however, a sudden jump from the Vietnam War to the modern day and leaves a gap in history where there were many important propaganda pieces created. The effect of propaganda and design is explored by Moore to an effective degree and portrays how useful they were in causing societal and political change.