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)

[A remarkably succinct and articulate explanation and defense of propaganda in art]

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.” [74]

[Could be our intro as well]

“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.” [74]

“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.” [74]

“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.” [74]

And the conclusion:

“We have no quarrel with a purpose. If it is tastily done up in the proper dress of art” [75]

[The point: Art has always conveyed a way of seeing, usually religious sometimes political, it is naïve to think otherwise. Good art, however, is not recognizable as propaganda and exists after the message has passed – implying it has other qualities as well]