Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Images of The People

"Democracy is Lovelace, and the people are Clarissa." -- John Adams

I don't really believe in that abstract entity known as The People. That may sound like an extraordinary thing for someone with left sympathies to say, but it's really not. For me, "people" usually describes any random group of individuals who may or may not agree on something, rightly or wrongly. I've never believed in the mystical entity known as "The People" that makes its first real appearance in political rhetoric and in art during the French Revolution. A lot of individuals, people, were offered up as a sacrifice, a "holocaust to Liberty" during the years of the Terror. Inconvenient contrary individuals will always cloud that glorious vision of the "monolithic unity" of The People.

Below are some samples of images of The People. Not all of them are intended to glorify The People. What is remarkable is how similar so many of them are to each other, across national and ideological lines.


Jacques Louis David, Triumph of the French People Over Monarchy, ca. 1793


Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, 1898 - 1901


George Grosz, "The Voice of the People is the Voice of God", 1919


Georg Scholz, Industrial Farm Family, 1920


Italian Fascist Poster, "Only One Heart, Only One Will, Only One Decision" ca. 1932


Italian Fascist Poster, Mussolini, 1934


Leopold Schmutzler, Farm Girls Returning From the Fields,
featured in the Great German Art Exhibit, 1937


Grant Wood, Adoration of the Home, ca. 1930


Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, 1943


Chinese Propaganda Poster, ca. 1970

14 comments:

Rick+ said...

Thank you for your postings! I feel like I'm getting such an education. Some of it I have to admit I don't understand (e.g., the Scholz piece... a reflection on me, not the artist, I'm sure), but much of it time and again is wonderful and broadening. I have especially enjoyed your postings of architecture as you traveled. Again, my thanks!

Counterlight said...

Georg Scholz intended that painting as a bit of revenge. In 1918, he was starving homeless (and injured) war veteran with a family. He begged a prosperous government subsidized "industrial" farmer for something to eat for himself and his family. The farmer told him to go see what he could find in the compost heap.
Scholz got his revenge in this painting which is an outraged satire of all those images of solid salt-of-the-earth farm families that are the staple of modern nationalist imagery.

Counterlight said...

I sorta figured I should have explained that picture. Sorry for the slip.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

How often does it not happen that we don't speak "that of which the heart is full" because it seems so obvious to us???

Or speak Japanese as do the technical brochures ;=)

Rick+ said...

Thank you so much; it makes sense now. Since it seems to me that art often is more to make us feel something, or see a viewpoint, or simply just to make us look at the world differently, it now makes perfect sense.

I understood the Grosz piece since I know German and was able to decipher a lot of the comments.

I fear I am one of the illiterati - not so bad that I say things like, "I don't know art, but I know what I like," as I pick out a teary-eyed clown on velvet; but still, I truly appreciate the education you're giving me, and I enjoy the political and faith commentary too!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Actually, I think the Farm girls and the Chinese are the most revolting, together with the "Freedom of speach".

So false.

Rick+ said...

Funny... it was the über-idyllic image of Adoration of the Home that I found most disquieting.

silverstar said...

YES the french rev was a pivotal event in European History,
it turned society on its head
yet somehow, what did it achieve ?

Did the peasants get any land rights ?
Did the huge numbers of working class people penned up in Paris get better conditions ?

No, Napoleon took over and became very right wing and pro the nobility and the old order of things, even reconciling his regime with the Catholic Church.

So the revolution was a convulsion
a shock to the system, but in the end the boujoir middle classes got back control
only this time without a monarchy

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Plus ça change, plus ça devient le même...

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I found The adoration ridicule... the noble houswife with all her attendant servants of all kinds, male and female...

Counterlight said...

Yes, the Grant Wood was pretty revoting.

How about those remarkably modern and stylish looking Fascist posters? not what we usually associate with Fascism.

While I've always loved Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, I've never been fond of Rockwell's paintings based on it. The "Freedom of Speech" one is especially difficult. Some "Freedom of Speech" when everyone around appears to agree !

it's margaret said...

hmmm --I do agree, and intuitively have never felt like one of "the people."

interestingly --"lakota" or "dakota" commonly known as souix, their name means "the people."

perhaps having an identity of belonging, being one of the people is not such a bad thing---it's the perversion of it, the propaganda, the pornography of it....

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Most people's own names mean the People!

On the other hand, most names of lands and peoples are the names given by other peoples, refering to some who used to live there long ago...

Grandmère Mimi said...

Actually, I think the Farm girls and the Chinese are the most revolting,...

Göran, yes! Great minds.... And the mama enthroned is very bad, too.