“Make Art Not War” Is a Handbook in the Fight for Liberty and Justice for All
Artwork: Reproduction of a poster by Jose Gomez Fresquet, printed by the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective, 1967. Courtesy of the CWLU Herstory Project.
“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction,” Pablo Picasso observed, drawing attention to the fundamental cycle of existence: from nothing, something; from something, nothing—ad infinitum.
People, being creatures of habit as much as will, often find themselves leaning heavily towards one side or the other. We gravitate towards what is familiar, either to our character or to our experience, inclined to preserve that comforts of the known, trying to avoid the inevitable turn that must come. We may fight it within ourselves, longing to escape fate, or we may find ourselves in conflict with society and the power structure that initiates change.
Invariably, we struggle with the nature of life, this eternal cycle of creation and destruction that causes so much misery and strife—until we can come to terms with this duality and make peace with it. For some, this peace comes with integrating opposition into the creative process: this is the art of protest.
Whether it is Picasso’s Guernica, a vast mural completed in 1937, which stands as one of the most masterful responses to war—or it is the humble protest poster, what both works share is the need to speak to the eye rather than the ear. They reach the soul by collapse space and time, using a symbolic language of line, color, shape, and form that speaks to the heart using more than words.
Make Art Not War: Political Protest from the American Century by Ralph Young (NYU Press) spotlights the artistic tradition of dissent. Featuring 87 political posters from Tamiment Library’s Poster and Broadside Collection at NYU, the book is a visual history of how protest movements shaped the course of the twentieth century.
The book begins in the early 1940s during the war, with the assurance of the UAW-CIO that workers would be protected from corporations. We see the issues of the day spotlighted here, calling on workers to unite, vote, and support each other. But the tone changes radically in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Women’s Right Movement, the LGBT Movement, and the Native American Movement speak truth to power and stand up for human rights.
Polite society has become a thing of the past as the phony image of post-War America has been peeled back to reveal a beast with nine heads. In a free country, the people are no longer willing to tolerate oppression against their own or imperialism around the world.
Make Art Not War calls attention to the fact that the issues facing the nation fifty years ago are once again front and center. The cycle of creation and destruction has never stopped. A revolution is when the circle spins round 360 degrees, returning us to the place we began. Here we are once again, the stakes seemingly higher because it is our lives at stake. Make Art Not War offers solace and strength, helping us to understand that the conflicts we are dealing with are embedded in the fabric of the nation as a whole. The solution is to be found in the long view of things. Make Art Not War offers the tools of truth: in order to create a country with liberty and justice for all, we must destroy that which stands against that which is true and honorable.
All artwork: Courtesy of Tamiment Library Poster and Broadside Collection. Tamiment library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.