Art as a Weapon in Political Warfare

picasso guernica
Picasso’s Guernica is the most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica

“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” ~ George Orwell


Art has always affected the political landscape. From George Carlin’s standup to Picasso’s Guernica, from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl to Banksy’s graffiti, from Avatar to Fight Club, art is a weapon in the battlefield of ideas.

As it turns out, the most famous political art of all time, George Orwell’s 1984, is fast becoming a weapon that is backfiring. When I say “political” I’m not talking about bipartisan claptrap and pithy diatribes launched between leftist and rightist talking heads. I’m talking about the struggle for power in our culture. Art can effectively swing the power struggle. Yes, art can be persuasive. Art jolts us awake.

It declares to any and all modes of power: “When freedom is outlawed, only outlaws will be free.” And, have no illusions, all art is outside the law. Even that last sentence is a fragment of art that is attempting to persuade you that “all art is outside the law.”

In fact, this entire article is a piece of political art that is attempting to persuade you that art is a weapon in political warfare. And it’s meant to be persuasive. I genuinely want to persuade you. Why? Because I think it’s important, and I sincerely hope that you will think it’s important as well. Your mind body and soul is on the line. Here then are four ways that art is a weapon on the battlefield of ideas.

Polish illustrator Pawel Kuczynski cleverly uses satire to portray today’s social, political and cultural reality.
Polish illustrator Pawel Kuczynski cleverly uses satire to portray today’s social, political and cultural reality.

Art can Help us to Imagine what’s possible

“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is; it’s to imagine what’s possible.” ~ Bell Hooks

Art can be both the ultimate purveyor of hope and the sad whisperer of despair. By encouraging us to engage with the real world in new ways, art takes despair and transforms it into hope, and vice versa. It puts things into perspective by forcing us to appreciate the fleeting impermanence of all things, most especially the impermanence of the self.

Much of the human condition cannot be put into words. And so art acts as a medium between our condition and our perception of it. We can hold up a book, or a painting, or a sculpture and simply say, “This is me.” Art stands between typical language and a “language older than words” and declares itself as a force to be reckoned with.

Within the maelstrom of political ideology, art asserts itself as a real symbolic energy that we can hang our hats on. The question is: are we hanging our hats on a healthy or unhealthy ideology? Art can be used as a tool for suppression (unhealthy) or as a tool for liberation (healthy). As artists, as human beings, it is our duty to decide which we will become: suppressor or liberator.

Thought-provoking illustration by Pawel Kuczynski
Thought-provoking illustration by Pawel Kuczynski

Art can be Divisive Propaganda

“The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.” ~ Baruch Spinoza

What is art? For the suppressor, art is used for brainwashing, consumption, and hoarding; it is something to be contained. For the liberator, art is used for thought, learning, and free expression; it is something to be liberated.

Human beings are not cut and dry, black and white, creatures. We are each a multiplicity in ourselves, an amalgam of sub-selves. As such, we are extremely susceptible to psychosocial influences. Art can be the ultimate balancing agent, or it can throw things out of whack.

It reveals to us, with unusual clarity, the full range of our abilities, and helps us to reevaluate our inner natures and direct us towards the healthiest, most promising version of ourselves. But art can also be oppressing.

There are unhealthy oppressors, usually systems of power vainly struggling to maintain their power, who use art (commercials, corporate news, TV programming, comics) as mind control to shape the cultural milieu and pacify the masses. This is done by forcing the masses into identifying with a particular political agenda and then repudiating those with differing interests.

Satirical illustration by Pawel Kuczynski
Satirical illustration by Pawel Kuczynski

Art can be used for good (healthy), or for evil (unhealthy). But there is no doubt that it is divisive. One must create wisely, for there is power in art, and we must be responsible with that power.

Conversely, it is our duty to make those who would use the power of art in oppressive ways accountable for their actions. This too can be done through art.

Art can Serve the Cause of Emancipation

“If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenges of apocalyptic times.” ~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Have you traded in your freedom for the illusion of security, or have you taken it upon yourself to daily justify your freedom in the face of all illusions? Under the current unsustainable system, which is creating unhealthy circumstances across the globe, anxiety and anguish is the rational and healthy response.

They are not signs of weakness, but of courage trying to burst out. Grieving over the effects of ecocide, tyranny and rape is the appropriate reaction. But instead of suppressing these emotions we must confront them. Grief can be transformed into righteous anger can be transformed into proactive courage can be transformed into art.

In the face of an apocalyptic scenario, we must ourselves become apocalyptic, not as isolated radicals but as an organized collective through the medium of art. The term “Apocalypse” isn’t limited to end of the world scenarios; it can also mean a revelation, a lifting of the veil, or a disclosure of something hidden.

Art can be the medium by which we accomplish this. Art lifts veils that otherwise cannot be lifted. It reveals secrets that could not have been revealed in any other way. Art itself may not be able to change the world, but it can inspire those who will. And that’s all we need it to be. The heart of emancipation is inspiration.

adbusters_occupy-wall-street poster
The Iconic Ballerina and Bull Occupy Wall Street Poster

Art can Transform Despair into Action

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” ~ Stephen Binko

Revolutionary art has the power to propel history forward. We must be able to confront the world as it is, by apocalyptically revealing what has been hidden, and then imagine how we can go about doing things differently. Art can be the medium for such imagining.

Peeling back what has been hidden from us can be upsetting, especially when we realize how much we’ve been lied to. Pulling back the curtain only to realize that we’ve been bamboozled by a lying wizard can really suck.

Despair can easily creep in. For most people it will be too much for them to handle, and they will experience cognitive dissonance and then tragically suppress the discovery. But for those of us who have been set free and then angered by the truth, there is another way other than suppression.

There is liberation through revolutionary art. Don’t be a “potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor.” Be a liberator. You start with liberating yourself. Suppressing the emotions gleaned from the discovery of the bamboozlement is exactly what the oppressors want.

They want you to turn on the TV to drown out the truth. They want to placate you with mindless advertisements. Don’t give in. I know it’s hard.

You’ve been conditioned. But it’s your responsibility to recondition that condition. One way to do that is through the genuine self-expression of your own art. Create an advertisement of your own. Compose a meme. Write an angry poem.

Be like Eminem on that bus on the movie 8 Mile and write a passionate rap song. Paint a politically dissonant painting. Tag a Chase bank or a Wells Fargo. Get out there and express yourself. Blow off some steam in a healthy way. Just make sure you’re responsible with your power. Rebellious art can liberate your soul. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’re being creative.


Image source:

Pawel Kuczynski
Occupy Wallstreet

Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and get the latest updates straight in your inbox!

Please share, it really helps! :) <3


Notify of

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Latest for Members

You May Like

Going to the Depths of your Mind through Vipassana

Sometimes you need to be pushed to the edge to realign with your path. It had reached a stage where if I didn’t do...

Understanding the Cyclic Patterns of Our Existence According to Rudolf Steiner – Part 2

The Sixth Cycle Ages 35 to 42: A Time of Challenge and Crises If I believe that I am what this world makes of me,...

The Four Stages of Forgiveness

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." ~ Mahatma Gandhi The wounds of the past can take years to heal. And the only...

3 Darker Fairytales and their Message, Depending on Where You are in Your Journey

'Dr. estes collects the bones of many stories, looking for the archetypal motifs that set a woman's inner life into motion'Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women...

Radical Providence: How Not to Take Things for Granted

“We aren’t handed life’s meaning, so it’s imperative that we choose it for ourselves.” ~ Thomas Cathcart Providence is a combination of wisdom, prudence, and...

Understanding the Awakening Empath and Inner Earthling

Navigating Reality One of the most difficult things for the awakening Empath to understand is Ego and how Ego aspects can be managed and understood...

For Members

The Psychology of Probability

"We balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination." ~ Sherlock Holmes One of the most important keys...

7 Ways to Heal the Crown Chakra

“The crown chakra is located several inches above the head, but it is not connected. The crown chakra, also known as the thousand-petal lotus...

Sacred Catastrophe : The Power of Initiation

“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.” ~ Henri-Frédéric Amiel Things fall...

Four Steps Toward Surviving a Dark Night of the Soul

In Seven Signs You May Be Experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul, we went into how we might know if we’re in the...

9 Meditations to Bring You Back Into the Light

“However beautiful and however enchanting an experience you come to, you are not it. You are the one experiencing it.” ~ Osho To those who...

Embracing Vicissitude: On Greater and Lesser Pains

"We don't so much solve our problems as we outgrow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than the problems."...

Three Linguistic Traps that Keep you Stuck

Language is a big part of the way we think. This is a great blessing as it allows us to simplify things, easily recall...

Interpreting the Native American Medicine Wheel

The Native American medicine wheel is a universal symbol used in many native tribes. Its meaning is versatile, depending on the tribe and personal...

Lone Wolf Medicine: The Power of a Peripheral Lifestyle

"The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in...

Leaving Not A Trace: How To Reduce Your Carbon And Currency Footprint In 5 Biodegradable Steps

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your...

The Philosophical Wrecking Ball: Protecting Us from Our Yearning for Certainty

“What I understand of “philosopher”: a terrible explosive in the presence of which everything is in danger.” ~ Nietzsche The thing that makes philosophy useful...

Mythos and Ethos: A Hero’s Journey

"When you see a new trail, or a footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing." ~ Sioux Proverb Mythology has...