The Art Museum at the University of Memphis' latest exhibit has a clear agenda to distinguish between education and artful persuasion on a mass scale. An official description of "Wars in Words: The Art of Propaganda" speaks for itself: "Education teaches one how to think. Propaganda teaches one what to think. Information offers opportunities, while propaganda tells how we should use these opportunities. Propaganda narrows people's views, while education broadens them. Education opens minds, while propaganda closes them; education will ultimately lead people to question the values upon which society is based, while propaganda aims to make people accept those values and act upon that acceptance."
Though it seems to have arrived at the U of M as America is fully engaged in a conversation about what is and isn't propaganda, "Wars in Words," curated by U of M history student Lenora Bendall, has been in the works for a year. "It happens to be topical right now," AMUM director Leslie Luebbers says. "Last year, it had a more abstract quality. Now people really are thinking about what they see, what they hear, and what they read. And what's factual and what's fake."
Artifacts displayed in "Wars in Words" were selected from three bodies of work in AMUM's permanent collection. The oldest examples are a selection of popular French prints from the 1830s and 1840s depicting the heroic exploits and derring-do of Napoleon I. "They were meant to raise public opinion in support of the re-establishment of the Bonaparte family," Luebbers explains.
The exhibit also includes prints created by the USSR to encourage and shame workers to meet their quotas and artists' prints produced in 1967 in response to the war in Vietnam.
"Wars in Words: The Art of Propaganda" at the Art Museum at the University of Memphis March 24th-April 29th. Opening reception March 24th, 4:30-7:30 p.m. Free.