Essay: The use of Art during wartimes

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
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  • Published: July 16, 2021*
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  • The use of Art during wartimes
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Art could sometimes be underestimated in times of war. Many failed to notice that it also played an important part to win the war. Art was a weapon used by all combatants in the Second World War, including the United States of America. Propaganda posters, cartoons, and films called out to all Americans to support the war from the American home front. Wartime posters unified the power of art with advertising to manipulate the idea that every citizen on the home front was a soldier and that it was a heroic act to make war aims a personal mission. War incentive posters and films helped to level the success of propaganda campaigns, conservations, sales of war bonds, and productivity in homes and factories in World War II.

When the war dawned upon America, artists, illustrators, and advertising specialists contributed to the government war effort by making propaganda posters and films. The government used these mediums of mass communication to convey messages from the military front to the home front. In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) opened a competition to motivate the creation of propaganda posters. Furthermore, the War Advertising Council (WAC) cooperated with the Office of War Information (OWI) in 1942 to form an Advisory Council of outstanding art directors to create government posters to convey national issues and regulate war bonds, labor recruitment campaigns and food conservations. The government did not hesitate to utilize posters to transform civilians into an all-war production nation. Company artists and printing manufacturers alike responded swiftly to this and the creation of pro-war posters boomed.

Since posters were inexpensive to produce and accessible to everyone, they were used for propaganda more than films and cartoons. The OWI wanted to make sure they were not just confined neatly to billboards or paid spaces for publicity. In order to emphasize the urgency of what the war demands, posters had to be posted everywhere: the walls of buildings, the windows on vacant stores, railway stations, on buses and on trains as a form of mass communication.

Posters in WWII were more than just pictures and slogans, they were powerful tools of manipulation. Therefore, established strategies and techniques based on research and surveys were incorporated into effective poster making. Many of these posters were vibrant, with clashing bright colors to create the sense of urgency. Patriotic colors of red, white, and blue were applied to various themes of posters. The text on posters were printed bold and large.

Poster designers stayed away from abstract images and symbols to avoid misunderstandings. In the governmental Office of Facts and Figures, the graphics division called Young & Rubicam,Inc., argued that “good war posters do the job better”. Hence, the dramatic yet straightforward style was suggested by Y&R professionals to the government in 1942. First, pictures must target at basic human emotions like fear, love, anger and sadness in order to leave a deep impression. No matter how sophisticated or colorful the artworks can be, if the art and text were not emotionally appealing positively or negatively, the likelihood of it making a deep impact falls short. Second, the use of photographic reality in posters were preferred over symbols and designs. When posters have literal pictures in photographic form, it shows objects and people the way to are to ‘tell the truth’ and creates a stronger impact.

Keeping these strategies and techniques in mind, artists and writers made various themes of propaganda posters to meet the demands of the war. Eventually, due to the propaganda posters, the effort of the government was ultimately eased in many ways. In all these various themes, propagandists engaged the U.S home front by personalizing these messages, to motivate people to work harder at home and at work. For example, posters illustrated pictures of soldiers thanking civilians for their effort and sacrifice. In addition, the implementation of soldiers depending on the home front in the posters made civilians feel like they should contribute to war effort even more.

America’s enemies were mocked and depicted as villainous characters in posters. A production-incentive poster illustrated Hitler and Tojo as monsters with the text: “Stop this monster that stops at nothing… PRODUCE to the limit! This is your war!” designed to push production in factories. Anti-German themed posters often characterize Hitler as doomed and the Nazis as evil fools. These posters aimed to remind Americans that Hitler would stop at nothing to destroy America if they do not support war effort to back the military up. One poster showed a humongous Nazi soldier’s boot crushing a church titled: “We’re fighting to prevent this!” In addition, Walt Disney studios supported the U.S. government by creating propaganda films in WWII. Most of these wartime films starred Donald Duck for his character symbolized the typical angry American citizen the most. In the short film “Der Fuehrer’s Face”, Donald Duck had nightmare working in a Nazi factory. When Donald Duck woke up from his nightmare, he felt so relieved and hugged a figurine of the statue of liberty saying “Boy, am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America!” The poster of this short film showed Donald Duck throwing a tomato at Hitler’s face.

Anti-Japanese posters stereotyped the Japanese as barbaric bucked-toothed and short sighted enemies. The Japanese were also represented as a mindless and atrocious unified mass. Even the Japanese-American citizens were portrayed as extreme supporters of Japan by propagandists. A poster titled “This Is the Enemy” accompanied by a dramatic picture of scared woman escaping from a murderous ‘Japanese Ape’ with a knife in its hand was promoted as an alarming reminder to Americans of who are their enemies were. “Stay on the job until every murdering Jap is wiped out!” and Uncle Sam toughing up saying “Jap…You’re Next!” were examples of posters aimed to boost war effort. Posters of the Pearl Harbor attack such as “Remember Pearl Harbor!”, were considered the most effective form anti-Japanese propaganda.

Due to the fear of spies and saboteurs, security was a persistent theme in poster propaganda. Careless talk causing Allied casualties were vividly depicted in posters that showed deaths of comrades saying “a careless word, a needless loss”, “loose lips might sink ships” or “bits of careless talk are pieced together by the enemy”. This attempt was used to inhibit information being leaked out to enemies of the war.
One out of seven wartime posters were about conservation and that made it the most popular theme in poster propaganda. Sugar, butter, coffee, and meat were promoted to be rationed to allow soldiers to have more. “Donate Scrap to beat the Jap!” urged people to donate scrap like tin so that more tanks and weapons could be built. Whereas for explosives, preservation of fat and grease was encouraged. The effect of these dramatic posters along with other means of propaganda, successfully recycled waste fats weighing 538 million –Ibs, paper weighing 23 million-tons, and tin weighing 800 million-Ibs from the U.S. home front.

Women were symbolized as soldiers of the home front. Propagandists dramatized their contribution as heroic conduct to the nation. From 1941 to 1943, the percentage of women working increased to 15%. Female wartime duties were encouraged by the government and it was one of the major campaigns promoted by war time posters. Images of women joining the work force were advertised in posters and glorified as an act of patriotism and love. “Be a Cadet Nurse, the Girl with a Future”, “Uniform… Slacks…or Kitchen Apron”. However, these motives were not aimed to promote status or money, it was more of selling the idea of working only in the duration of war to bring males in the family in combat duties back home sooner. on them was captured in a poster of a woman and a sailor embracing a hug with the slogan: ‘Bring him home sooner… Join the WAVES (Women Accepted Volunteer Emergency Program)”. These program posters still portrayed the figures of women as “sophisticated” to promise women it was still feminine to work for armed forces and work blue-collar jobs.

“You buy ‘em, we’ll fly ‘em” was one of the poster of a encouraging the sales of war bonds. Best artistic talents and best advertising techniques

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