Art consists of expressing your own truth, be it hard earned through painful experience, or easily gained through the efforts of good teachers, to an audience who is interested in hearing it. The audience, if open, can use the artist as a teacher to help uncover her own truth.
Commercial design is using your skills to help another person express his truth. There is a great deal of skill, and an even greater degree of humility, in being able to remove your own truth from the process and allowing your clients’ to shine through. The designer is a translator.
Propaganda is using these same skills to replace the audience’s truth with the propagandists.
We have two “populist” political movements active today. The Tea Party began with populist uprising against what they saw as unfair taxation and poor representation. Ordinary conservative citizens learned from their liberal counterparts and began gathering in protest. (I think that’s great, by the way. I may not agree with all of their positions, but I applaud the courage and effort to step out and speak.) If we look at their presentation- the costumes and Don’t Tread On Me flags, we see a people looking back to history as a model of things *as they would have liked them to have been.* Every man you see wearing a tricorn hat is modeling himself a patriot, a hero. He knows things are broken and he is symbolically positioning himself as willing to be the one to make the difference.
What is more, this hero, through great faith and marvelous imagination, can project himself into the winner of the Great American Dream. Through his hard work and sacrifice, he too can find that magic thing that lifts him out of the ordinary and into the ranks of the exceptional. The rich and famous and powerful, yes, but also the brave and the brilliant and the loved and the remembered. Just as ordinary farmers fought to set this nation free those centuries ago, this ordinary worker can fight and win and become a hero, too.
It is tragic that the Tea Party movement was so quickly overtaken by wealthy and powerful corporate and partisan interests, skilled in manipulating message. The average Tea Partier’s Art was contorted into mere propaganda. The problem redefined: not too much month at the end of the money, but too high taxes. Not insufficient medical care, but liberal hands coming to steal what little we have. And any contract and liberty is inviolable, unless it touches on sexual behavior that conservatives find uncomfortable. Keep fighting for the position of privilege: some you might be one of us.
The Occupy movement, just a month old, has so far avoided corporate influence, but has yet to garner the political power that the Tea Party enjoys. #OWS also looks back, but in a process of research. They wield charts and data, hoping to convince the powerful to stop being selfish out of the kindness of their hearts. It is an intellectual attack on an emotional problem. #OWS has found its truth, that too much wealth and power are held by too few at the expense of too many, but hasn’t been able to express it cogently.
The Tea Party needs help reversing the propaganda that has taken over, and #OWS needs a good designer to help express itself.
Ideally, their help would come from the same place. That is the challenge our leaders face.