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Artist: Pablo Picasso

Posted on by Ben Hodson

“Guernica” Pablo Picasso 1937 Oil on Canvas

My research of other historical and contemporary artists has centered on specific individuals who attempted to use visual art to bring about positive change.  When looking into visual artists who had a big influence on society, it is impossible to ignore the influence of Pablo Picasso.  Specifically in his painting “Guernica” the artist intended to draw attention to the atrocities of war, in particular the aerial bombardment of the Spanish village of Guernica.   

The Spanish rulers commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Paris International exposition, as part of the world fair in Paris 1937.  He had already begun work on this commission when the bombing took place.  He scrapped his original work and began to create this provocative monochromatic image.  It was heralded as the painting which allowed the world to awaken to the horrible events of the Spanish civil war.  As an anti-war symbol it was particularly successful in catching the public’s attention.  This was to do with the new style of aerial bombardment that the German Luftwaffe squadron employed.  The world was becoming aware of the inevitable breakout of European war and this was the first time the devastating potential of this new style of warfare was seen. 

Picasso never fully explained the work or associated symbolism.  There are a number of conflicting theories which surround the work and what it has contributed to change in world history.  It is therefore hard to determine or quantify exactly what impact the work has had.    It is clear that this is one of the most famous pieces of art in the world and it appears to have galvinised public opinion against the ideologies of war, both past and present.  

Artist: Steve McQueen

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Roger Bacon, the father of Major Mathew Bacon (not depicted) who was killed in Iraq in 2005 looks a piece of artwork entitled 'Queen and Country' at the National Portrait Gallery on March 18, 2010 in London, England.

This investigation has primarily been focused on artists who have tried to influence policy, public opinion or the government.  To bring some balance, it is worth looking at the opposite side of this.  There are numerous times when the “state” commissions artists to create work to support, promote and even carry out its intentions and purposes.  This is most evident in intentional propaganda but can be seen in other ways.  The British government commissions an artist for every war where there is British involvement. For the current war in Iraq the official war artist is Steve McQueen.  He is currently one of Britain’s foremost artists, including recently representing Britain in the 2009 Venice Bienale.  For the Iraq commission McQueen decided to move away from film as a medium.  He decided to make stamps using the faces of the soldiers who have been lost in the war.  He managed to gain full support from the soldiers' families and created the stamps with the aim to have them on sale for the public to use as legal stamps.  The government and Royal Mail have so far refused to make this happen.  It appears to be slightly ironic; the state commissioned an artist to give an official creative response to the war and then censored the artist's intentions to protect their own interests. There have been many forms of propaganda. Even the war images I looked at previously were used as propaganda by communist governments.  It is a huge subject in itself, which I will not fully engage with.