Art and Propaganda (1924)

William Pickens (1924)
Art and Propaganda
Extract from The Messenger, New York, April 1924
(reprinted in Art and Social Change, Will Bradley and Charles Esche, eds., London: Tate, 2007, pp. 74-75)

It begins:

“What we are going to say now will make us a Philistine to some ‘artists’, and to all of the near-artists. But a little thinking will do even an artist some good.”

“Art and Propaganda always do exist side by side; for in fact propaganda is the subsoil out of which all art has grown – religious, ethical, racial or class propaganda. But (and here’s what the near-artists stumble over) it is the function of art to conceal the propaganda as to make it more palatable to the average recipient, while yet not destroying its effect.”

“And were not all Italian art, and most of the music of the world, done in the cause of religion? The art element will outlast the propaganda element, of course; for if a thing is a good work of art, it will still be a good work of art after the propaganda cause has passed.”

“There is plenty of propaganda without art, but at least mighty little worthy art without propaganda – for propaganda is the raison d’etre of the greatest arts.”

And the conclusion:

“We have no quarrel with a purpose. If it is tastily done up in the proper dress of art”

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