“The Art of Persuasion” exhibit now on display

Have you thought lately about the effects of advertising on your thinking?  “The Art of Persuasion,” the current exhibit in the art gallery which opened Tuesday, takes a close look at the way images convey specific messages.

Although the exhibit’s curators — Gallery Director and Assistant Professor of Art Darren Miller, Associate Professor of Art Richard Schindler, and Associate Professor of History Kenneth Pinnow — chose works from the middle of the 20th century, the exhibit can teach gallery visitors something about propaganda and advertisement today.

“We’re interested in how the ability to persuade using these tools has changed over time,” Miller said.

He pointed out that we are surrounded by images every day and that even though people now are more critical of the information they take in than they were during the 1940s and 1950s, we should still be very aware of what these images are telling us.  Advertisements have honed their abilities to influence how we think.

“They’re not doing it the way they were in 1940,” Miller said. “How are they doing it in 2010?”  Miller encourages people to consider this question when viewing the display.

“Exhibitions should have some educative function,” Schindler said.

He also hopes that people make connections between what was going on during the time represented in the exhibit and today’s current events.  Schindler wants people to remember that everything dealing with political and social issues is propagandistic, no matter when it’s from.

Artists that can reach the common people well are useful in conveying messages about these issues, as seen in everything from World War II posters to campaign images in the 21st century.

The World War II posters seem blatant to most viewers’ suspicious eyes with messages such as “Keep ‘em shooting — their lives depend on you,” “Beat back the Hun with Liberty bonds” and simply “Buy war bonds.”

The photographs of devastation and poverty during the Great Depression demand public support as well.  The Farm Security Administration used these images to rally support for New Deal policies through emotional, bluntly realistic depictions of life for the people deeply affected by the Depression.  These photographs helped convince Americans to support government intervention to aid their fellow citizens who were in poverty.

The Puerto Rican movie posters also convey very obvious messages.  Most of the movie descriptions included community members coming together to overcome an obstacle, and some simply educated the public about issues like hygiene, women’s rights and the incorrectness of superstition and prejudice.  The posters clearly illustrate the government’s promotion of democracy and modernism.

To represent advertisement today and to add a little humor, the curators included a comic strip by Ward Sutton about campaign images in the 21st century.  The strip includes sarcastic comments about how font, color and symbols in campaign bumper stickers and posters send viewers a message.  These elements used today are much more subtle than the clear messages and images in the other artworks in the exhibition.  However, Sutton reminds us that they are still there and we should be noticing them.

“The ways in which we use visual work to influence other people is really important,” Miller said.

“The Art of Persuasion” tells us to pay attention to all of the visual elements around us, and to consciously take note of what messages they convey.

Even though propaganda has become more subtle, it is still present in our everyday lives.