Orwell: "Art and propaganda are the same thing"

In his review of The Novel Today by Phillip Henderson Orwell strikes at both the highly fashionable aesthetic school of critical thought that claims to focus purely on aspects of formal beauty and the leftwing Communist critics and rightwing Catholic critics who were of the instrumentalist school. He identified at that time (1936) a movement from ‘the official attitude’ (aestheticism) to modernist of the Communist and Catholic varieties. He argued that both of the two modernist groups were guilty of ‘frightful intellectual dishonesty’ because they couldn’t avoid resorting to aesthetic appreciations in place of arguments when challenged regarding their literary views.

He concludes
“Few people have the guts to say outright that art and propaganda are the same thing.”

I’m wondering whether Orwell is right about this. I suppose that anything that enters the discourse sufficiently to be named ‘art’ is propaganda, one could argue for the existence of another art that is outside of the critical discourse (wherever one might find such a discourse). The example I was thinking of in particular was the graffiti one finds on exam desks.

I recall reading that Plato in The Republic considered art to either be a tool against the state or a tool used for it. I can certainly see these influences in many movies that attempt to influence political and social trends.

However, and I’m not trying to be silly, but are cartoons like the carebears (whatever) attemting covert influence? I’m not sure about that, but then I’m not sure that such things meet the definition of art.

I say that as I recall taking a class in college called the philosophy of art and a major theme was that all small “a” art was not capital “A” high art. This could be a major point.

Carebears clearly has no simple link to institutional politics, but Orwell means propaganda in the sense that one cannot help but advocate something or another if one produces something for the public to see.

I’ve no problem with virtually all of human activity being counted as art, I see little use in more restrictive definitions…

Ah, now I see what he meant. Artistole mentioned that all men are political bodies basically at war with themselves, and I see truth in that, so it would make sense that a human is going to produce an “argument” in every complex expression.

If that’s the case, the carebears do mean something!

At first, I thought that Orwell was commenting on socially recognized forms or art, but I guess that’s another discussion.

virtually all of human activity can be construed as being political as well…


Imp and I have made it clear that Carebears have meaning!

Indeed, I think Orwell would have been one to construe in that fashion.

Ethics is the aesthetics of the future. Who said that?

Shall I nominate you for the Nobel Prize or do you have a secretary to take care of that?

Out of humility, I would refuse it anyway, so give it to Tu-Tu again.

But, just because we solved the Carebear issue, that doesn’t mean the topic is over, so what else is on your mind about it?

Bullshit! The intent behind the CareBear’s cartoon was to sell more carebear dolls. If I am not mistaken, the company that sold the dolls produced the cartoon, a steady trend in the 80’s, when toy manufacturers marketed their toys via cartoons.

Don’t confuse marketing (ala what the art in question displays) with the intent of the artist.

As for all art as propaganda, that would require that all art be purposeful, I would argue that what is considered ‘modern art’ shows that to not be the case, in so much as the only purpose behind most modern art is to enrich the artist.

Of course, I suppose that could entail some sort of propaganda as well.

I would argue though, that the greater the aesthetic appeal inherent within a work of art, the greater the potential is to make propaganda with it. The Catholic Church has commisioned some of the greatest artists in History to create work that would inspire a sense of awe in believer and non believer alike. Does that make the art itself propaganda, or rather, the way it is ‘marketed’?

I think both could be the case…


Art is not necessarily aware that it could be propaganda and propaganda is not particularly aware that it could be art.

Both have differing intentions…one conveys ‘aesthetic’ while other ‘provides an interpretation’.

You won’t find Van Gough postered throughout the city in times of political upheaval, nor while you find posters for MARXIST REBELS in National Galleries. This is not to say that some of Van goughs paintings (or any artist for that matter) doesn’t have political ‘intentions’ or ‘outlooks’ expressed through his art, but that, one is 'latent (on the canvass as asethtic) and the other is ‘overtly’ political (in the form of political postering.

(ok, maybe im waffling)

I appreciate that I have only looked at one ‘form’ of Art (art refers to the entire spectrum of ‘faculties’ more or less) and one ‘form’ of propaganda, but hey, im just spinning my mental cogs over this one. i’ll need to come back and have another think.

though art is a bias form of self-expression, it is only turned into propaganda if it is deliberately done. so if a painting makes you feel a certain way and the artist is oblivious to the message [see definition below] , it is most likely not propaganda.

…now if youll excuse me i have to finish a civil war outline…FUCK…

The Sphinx of Giza is a real work of art. Was its initial purpose for propoganda?

…a comic statue of their “catty” emoperor? :confused:

Its presence will have, no doubt, had political consequences.

Here of course we see one of the problems of the ‘art as the artists intent’ school of thought - an artist may do something unintentionally or even intentionally but unconsciously…

Propaganda: The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause. (At this level, a majority of journalism and perhaps the entire spectrum of the media, can be viewed in some way of another as distiling propaganda)

Art: Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.

Van Gogh - Prisoners at Excercise:

Anti-Japanese Propaganda WW2:

Both have ‘political’ implications. But one is a ‘political reality’ and the other is ‘an artistic one’. This is not to say that ‘artistic reality and the political’ are not mututally exclusive. Indeed, I have seen nothing more political than ART, but that Art, is necessarily ‘propaganda’ is open to debate.

In fact, I am now beginning to think of the lucrative business of Art in WW2. The Germans purged France for many of its artistic treasures…indeed Art being stolen during War time…i’ll need to think about his some more…