Right on!

Andrew Bennett                                     Contemporary Graphic Practice

The social view of creativity and control of that medium by political views


In this essay I will be deconstructing two images that were chosen for me at random by two separate people. My aim is to create a narrative between these two images and use a third image to solidify this narrative for the audience who wouldn’t necessarily know what the story is between the images. I will suggest how social ideals and political views affect our designs and ideas, I will look at advertising, street art and how they are affected by different ideals and I will explore the idea that we are never truly free as designers, that everything we do has an agenda, or follows a path that has been undertaken by others before us.

Image Deconstruction

Image one                                                                                          Image two

Both of these images are very strong and have very different styles. When I asked two random people to analyse these images they came back with the following narratives: –

Image one: Chrissy Usher



When I see this image I see two alternate worlds.  On the left side of the brain you see the blue collar, hardworking men, sitting inside their cubicles looking miserable working their lives away.  It also looks dark, lonely, and cold.  You see a few of them trying to break out of that world and go to the right side of the brain.  One the right side of the brain you see people “living free.”  They look like they are working their minds, being active, having fun, and living in a colourful world.  Most of the people are doing more things in the arts, painting, reading, filming, and playing guitar.  It’s almost like good verses evil.

Image two: Adam Shapland



Corruption through society, I think it’s the eradication of corruption through society and the process of seeking out, the norm and emphasis on the collective and a poison within.

Souls have grouped together and a free thinker has emerged, the free thinker has then been singled out and punished, this then sets the tone in their life.

From these two narratives it is clear that two very distinct narratives arise. Image one’s narrative shows creativity and the separation between control and freedom of that creativity, and the other narrative showing subjugation of a freethinker or creative person. One of the main issues for me, which arise from these images, is the concept of subjugation. I think as designers we are subjugated to a certain degree, that no matter what we produce, it is either being dictated to us by a person or what we believe to be a free piece of design has actually a strong political idea or follows what someone has done before us. David Crow summarizes this in Visible Signs [2003: 9] “Our desires and our sense of our own identities are all moulded and manipulate by the signs that surround us. Language also has inbuilt political meaning. It can be used as an instrument of control. Communication has a hierarchy that is deeply embedded in our societies.”

Image two is quite shocking, we see the woman on the ground, not knowing what is wrong with her, but it feels like she should be helped, yet the others just stand and read. It is noticeable within design that shocking campaigns get attention, when we see these kinds of design, especially in the advertising media, how should we react? One notable campaign by Oliviero Toscani, for United Colors of Benetton was banned in many cities in Italy for being too outrageous, one noticeable poster was that of the clothing of a Bosnian soldier who was shot and killed, the clothes stained with his blood. This advert is specifically shocking; Toscani defended himself by saying that traditional advertising, in particular so called, ‘life-style-advertising’ was dull and unimaginative, portraying an ideal word that doesn’t exist. He believes that this style of communicating has lost the ability to communicate with the consumer, whereas his approach is strongly rooted in the political propaganda of National Socialism and Communism in the thirties of our centaury. [Brandstaetter, 1997] Another advertising campaign that took allot of complaints was the Barnardos ‘Giving Children Back Their Future’ [Barardos, 1999-2000] which featured a baby injecting itself with a needle, follows the same line of thought as Oliviero’s hard rooted campaigns. This type of creativity is surely pushing the boundaries too far, making your audience uncomfortable and dejected at the thought your work, is surely counter productive.

When looking at this concept of control we see examples of it within both images, in image one the people that are stuck on the left hand side of the brain and in image two, where it feels like the people standing and watching the woman on the floor are almost forcing her to do it. We see this same control in all forms of art and media, especially in forms of ‘free’ design that is trying to convey a message. Oliviero noted about political propaganda of National Socialism and Communism, and what a massive affect this had on art, design and advertising. In many ways the creative arts all have a strong rooting in Socialist views and Marxism, with many of the popular forms of art dissecting the establishment and cooperation’s, we see this in image one, where there are the encaged workers on the right trying to ‘break free’ from the cooperation’s and join the free thinking creative’s on the right. The reason for such a strong influence is the ideologies that the Soviet Revolution stated, freeing the working man, creating something better, a new world, a modern world, made by the working and created by those who were creative and passionate, the revolution supposed to be a step in a positive direction. A notable resource, and often regarded as one of the primary statements of the movement was Tarabukins Constructivism 1922 [Hayward Gallery 1971: 9] It’s a shame that what was created did not last, and truly the ethics that socialism stood for at the beginning were lost and eventually creative thinkers and artists and the free thinking were subjugated and in some cases killed. Is it not funny how something that is shaped as a freethinking creative ideal can turn on its head and suddenly becomes something that is truly evil? In image two we see another form of communication, this idea of physical control over a person, this, for me, represents the idea of fascism. Fascism had a very strong rooting in the creative arts; one notable example was Hitler’s campaign in the 30’s to take control of Germany. The fascinating aspect of this regime was that Fascism in Germany too had deep creative roots, using new media and advertising techniques to reach the audience. For example; “Hitlers penchant for politics as theatre, his coaching by an actor in how most effectively to strike oratorical poses, and his preference for the stage settings of Wagnerian opera as decorative models for Nazi festivities have often been remarked on. Assisted by the media, Hitler cultivated certain role models in the presentation of his public persona: the lover of serious music, art and architecture, the unsung ordinary soldier of world war 1, the heroic fighter for the ‘decent’ German cause within the treachery of the Weimar party jungle, the deep thinker and instrument of providence as a statesman, and so on.” [Taylor, van der Will 1990: 1] So why do both of these controversial movements so strongly rely upon creative mediums in their infancy, it is because these mediums are strong at creating and forming opinions, and bringing people together to one view point. We look at war propaganda from both the allies and the axis and we can see the subliminal messaging at work, each sides attempt to create hatred towards the other. Is it a surprise then that modern advertising comes from the very propaganda that was used in the 30’s and 40’s.

When I study the two images I can see that these ideas of subjugation are very strong. It reminds me of modern advertising and how everyday we are controlled, to buy, or to do something, that we wouldn’t necessarily consider doing. During the First World War, a young man called Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigman Freud, was creating and promoting the American ideal, convincing Americans, and the world, that their involvement in the War was right and something to believe in. Bernays then started to think about this creation of hype about an identity or product, he thought about the concept of using the audiences subconscious to generate a level of control over them, purely by using and manipulating, images and films correctly. [The Century of The Self 2002] Its clear that this approach is essential in marketing, wanting to make your audience do a certain thing, or buy a certain thing is key to a brand. I think also that this concept of subliminal messaging is present in pieces of graphic design and art. For example “Because graphic design is so powerful and so warped (in most commercial practice) in it’s ability to communicate, it provides an exaggerated model for the same questions being that dog other communication fields like photography, film, the internet, and my own field writing. Who really has a voice in our culture? Do we have public forms that are democratic, alive, open, fun, able to make a difference? Or are too many of our public spaces bought and closed off: the town square where speeches were protected by the First Amendment now deserted in favour of the shopping mall where private owners determine what is said in advertising spaces; the cacophony of public-access cable ceding to HBO; anything resembling porn on the Net potentially censored by schools and libraries; reporters, TV news anchors, graphic designers, and others hired to condense and deliver messages but to keep their own mouths shut.” [Lavin 2001: 3]

The ideas raised by these two images are quite freethinking; they are the kind of images that you would expect to find graphitised, where someone wants to give a message about the control of governments and the media. The images remind me of how all art has a message, even if the artist intends no message, yet there is allot with a specific view, or point to make. One artist is Banksy, who chooses poignant imagery to create a satirical view on the establishment. Graffiti is a medium, which encourages freethinking opinion and political views; it freed the minds of the young in the 70’s and 80’s. Much of the core values of this communication medium emerged as a result of the punk culture, which revolted against the establishment. [McQuiston 1993: 138] In a sense this was another form of social revolution, much like that of the Russian revolution, the core values of saying no to the establishment and those in control. So when we see street culture in arts, such as graffiti, are we not just seeing a political message, rather than free thinking, is it not just a political form of socialism? There are hundreds and thousands of artists and ‘freethinkers’ out there but is their message one of freedom or is it just another political route, down which we would meet subjugation, much like communism. It is interesting to me when I look at the current situation in Iran, complete censorship takes places in that country, the young, freethinking and creative people are not allowed to express their views like youngsters were in the 80’s and the people of the Russian Revolution, so they are using the web as a new medium of expression, much like in the 80’s, how graffiti was used, now blogging and viral videos from mobile phones is paramount to expression of social ideals and political view points. [Barnet 2009] still we see creativity expressing a political viewpoint, is this real freethinking or just reform for another political party. So in the whole, who is controlling the creative movement? Surely it is government control, as each medium either has a left or right message. Yet the people creating their message think they are coming from a free point-of-view.

In conclusion I would state that someone other than the artist controls all measure of creativity, even though their approach is from a ‘free’ attitude they are still conforming to rules and views that have come before them. In terms of the commercial media that surrounds us, I believe that it comes from a right wing view point, it really did emerge from both Axis and Allied propaganda, then turning into capitalism, of suppression and control, making the consumer purchase and buy, pushing them into decisions that may lead them to debt and poor lifestyle choices. So is there really free creativity? Or does an establishment in one sense or another control everything? I would dare to say that it does, and no matter how hard a person tries to argue that they are coming from a new fresh, unheard of place, with new viewpoints, there is always an agenda, or some kind of view behind that creative movement. At the end of the day, we can never be truly free in the things we create and make as designers, no matter how hard we try our views will always relate to something that someone else has done or is telling you. Much like the images that were chosen for me, as designers we will always be like the person laying on the floor, surround by oppressors, and we will never reach the creative side, that we consistently try and reach. Hence why I chose my third image, I really feel that it bridges the gap and displays the concept of control, both by the government, the artist and then the political message brought into play by the artist, and reinforces my arguments.

Image three




WWW Page



WWW Page

Crow. D (2003) Visible Signs Switzerland: AVA Books.




WWW Page




WWW Page

Hayward Gallery (1971) Art in Revolution London: Shenval Press.

Taylor. B, van der Will. W (1990) The Nazification Of Art – Art, Design, Music, Architechture & Film In The Third Reich Winchester: Winchester Press


The Century of The Self


WWW Page Video Documentary

Lavin. M (2001) Clean New World – Culture, Politics and Graphic Design Massachusetts : The MIT Press

McQuiston. L (1993) Graphic Agitation – Social and Political Grpahics Since the Sixties London : Phaidon Press Limited




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