Art in Michelangelo’s words was something not created through brain but something sculpted from inner inspiration and culture.
He believed that every stone had a sculpture within it, and that the work of sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away all that was not a part of the statue. That was the age of Renaissance, an age where art went through an interlude of resurgence. It was the age when art was nourished and so it flourished. Painters, artists and sculptors were commissioned to produce works of art which went on to become timeless masterpieces. Such was the soul in these works that Michelangelo once said, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection”.
Times have changed and art has come a long way, spanned many centuries and interested many curious minds. Beethovens’ cerebral symphonies have given way to Nirvanas’ boisterous sounds. (I still fail to understand how they decided upon the name) Shakespearean methods of literature have been substituted by the writings of authors like Dan Brown. Paintings too have undergone a sea change as M.F. Hussains’ creations adorn more walls than do the paintings of most Renaissance painters. Art has indeed traversed eons and has always pleased the aesthetic mind. It is a breath of fresh air, transporting us from our digital cocoon to simpler times. But never has has this gracious form of self-expression washed its’ hands off propaganda. Not once.
Art has been swamped by propaganda. In “The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda”, an essay which George Orwell wrote in 1941, he says that if we look back at the English literature of the last ten years , the thing that strikes us most is that it has almost ceased to be aesthetic.
Writers have been aesthetically aware but, as Orwell suggests, they have been more inclined towards subject-matter than technique. Paintings Have not been spared either. Leonardo da Vincis’ Mona Lisa is probably the worlds’ most scrutinized painting but it still manages to perplex artists and academics alike. The lady conceals so much that till date no one knows what she is actually concealing. The Mona Lisa smiles down at everyone who examines her and always has the last laugh (pun intended). In another painting of his called The Last Supper, da Vinci incorporates major traces of symbology. The painting shows Jesus Christ dining with his disciples, one of which as studies today say is Mary Magdalene – the lady with which Jesus is alleged to have fathered a child. When Da Vinci created this painting, it was smugly accepted as a magnificent portrayal of Christ and his twelve apostles having bread and wine. Later though, came to the forefront a stark revelation that the apostle sitting to the right of Jesus was in fact not an apostle after all but was Mary herself.
Bernini, another famous artist of the 15th century, painted and sculpted for the church in order to propagate religion and promote religious beliefs. A lesser known fact here is that he also created sculptures for a group of undercover scientists called Illuminati. When scientists used to propose their ideas to the church in the 15th century, the church would bluntly cast aside their theories since it thought that these theories challenge and disregard God.
The church would even go on to murder some of these scientists to send out warnings to all other scientists out there. The surviving ones decided to conceal themselves from the rest of the world and agreed to meet only in private. But they had to devise a way to let willing scientists join them.
This is where they commissioned Bernini to sculpt for them. Bernini created sculptures which had secret messages hidden in them and could be deciphered by only by a few brilliant brains. These sculptures acted as signposts to people who could decipher them and were placed along the Path of Illumination-the route which led to the secret meeting place of the Illuminati. Propaganda does not get bigger than this.
Propaganda lurks in every book, painting, drawing and sometimes even in sources of entertainment like movies or music. It reminds us that every work of art has a meaning and a purpose — a political, social or a religious purpose. It debunks art and leads to aesthetic judgments forever corrupted by our own prejudices and beliefs.