On April 6, 1917, the U.S. officially declared war on Germany, shifting from a merely belligerent nation to a full-fledged participant in World War I. Decades prior to that date, the government sponsored artists to create art that helped establish the nation, but with the onset of the Great War, artists took on a greater role. In this Thursday Forum presentation, Assistant Professor of Art Ranelle Knight-Lueth will discuss the important role that art played in the propaganda during this time.
Some artists rallied against the war, producing anti-war art and exhibitions. With awareness of the tremendous influence art wielded at this time, President Woodrow Wilson implemented a new government organization, the Committee on Public Information (CPI), within days of the official declaration of war. The CPI's mission was to persuade the public to support the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and the war effort overall. The CPI generated posters, exhibitions, films and other forms of propaganda.
The War Department also commissioned America’s first official combat artists, recognizing that artworks had the ability to document and persuade - two key components to military success. Eight artists, whom Knight-Lueth calls the "AEF 8," were sent to France by the Army to create art "over there" for propagandistic purposes "over here."
However, the U.S. was not the only country with government-sponsored propaganda divisions. Great Britain, France and Germany implemented similar programs, and American efforts were often compared to their European counterparts.
Overall, American art faced a creative revolution during the Great War. The visual arts were used as weapons of war and peace, revealing the cultural and historical implications of American art before, during, and after World War I.