Throughout human history, propaganda has always been used to promote biased information. This information may be in the form of religious, political, or social ideologies. There are different forms of propaganda. It can be propagated through print media, architecture, paintings and narrative. The use of propaganda is particularly popular because of its ability to shape the publics opinion on important issues.
George Orwell, one of the most renowned novelist-cum journalist of the 20th century once quipped that all art to some extent has some elements of propaganda (Packer, 2009). His sentiments could not be any further from the truth. Looking at different forms of artistic works that have ever been done, one realizes that most of them try to promote some specific ideologies. Religious, political and social perceptions are shaped via art.
Going back in history, Roman empire is remembered as one of the most revered emperors in the ancient times. One of the most formidable enemies of the Romans were the Dacians. However, during his reign, Emperor Trajan was able to conquer the Romans. Due to this fete, the emperor remained one of the most respected emperors of the Romans. The Trajan column was built in his memorial (Henig, 1983).
However, this column was not just in remembrance of Trajan in the literal sense. The Romans used the architectural design of the structure to portray some propagandist agenda.
Firstly, the structure of column took the shape of a phallus. This was meant to portray the Romans defeat over the Dacians. In the Roman culture, the phallus represented penetration. Often, the one being penetrated was portrayed us weak, or slaves. The structure of the column thus represented this victory Emperor Trajan led the Romans against the Dacians.
The structure was also 100 feet tall. It was centrally located and towered over any other building in Rome. This represented domination. The Romans had dominated their archrivals and thus the essence of the column being the tallest around to depict this.
It is also worth noting that the column was designed in such a way that the bands were spiraling. In order to understand the narrative, one had to walk around the column. In the Roman culture, it was customary to circumambulate around the funeral pyre of the deceased as a show of respect. What the structure of the column did was to make people circumambulate around Trajans Column and in essence seem as if they were paying respect to the fallen emperor.
Finally, in the frieze of Trojan Column, there were pictorial representations of Trajan offering sacrifice to the gods. This is particularly important since it is well known that most societies have strong religious fibers. The masses are more susceptible to respect their leaders if they know he is religious. Religion has always been used as a political propaganda. In this case, the pictorial representation in a kind shaped the Roman public opinion that their leader was religious and in some way, they were guaranteed of the Deitys protection.
The other form of art used to propagate propaganda is painting. One classical example of painting that was used to promote social ideology is the scream. This is a painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. The Scream depicts one central figure that is neither male nor female. The face resembles a fetal face, both hands covering the ears. At the background, two other figures walk into distance. The background scenery is that of blood-red sunset around a water body; sea or river. The brush strokes give the scene a swirling appearance (Aspen, 2012).
Edvard Munch existed between two distinct periods. The end of the traditional thoughts and philosophies and at the onset of modernistic thoughts. His father was an astute Christian and now through his involvement with the radical anarchist, his stand on religion and other traditional philosophical system of beliefs were gradually being under scrutiny. The Scream was thus a promotion of his newly shaped thought process which was modernistic. When modernistic thought system came through which sought to change everything that was hitherto deemed to be true and certain, Munch embraced it. However, this came with feelings of guilt. Abandoning a strong Christian background to embrace a system of beliefs that rejected the notion of there being a super natural being. Overall, the scream promoted existentialism as a new way of thinking. The painting tries to show how in the traditional way of thinking, Munch had suffered so much emotional anguish and therefore he deemed it the right time to embrace modernistic ways.
Propaganda is one of the most popular ways of promoting information. Through various artistic forms, man has employed propaganda. Architectural designs are classic examples of art used to propagate propaganda. The Romans designed the Trajan Column not only as a memorial to their beloved emperor, but also to showcase their dominance over their formidable enemies, the Dacians. It also sought to showcase the leadership ability of the fallen emperor. Likewise, the Scream showcases propaganda promoted through artistic painting. In this painting, Munch seeks to promote existentialism as opposed to the hitherto traditional thought processes in the Norwegian society.
Aspden P. (21 April 2012). So, what does The Scream mean? Financial
George Orwell, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays, Compiled by George
Packer, Boston: Mariner Books, 2009, p. 198.
Martin Henig, A Handbook of Roman Art: A Comprehensive Survey of the All
the Arts of the Roman World, Ithaca Cornell University Press, 1983, p. 9
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