Two Decades of American Painting: Propaganda?

By Rebecca Elliott.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Joseph Nye Jr’s theory of ‘soft power’ contends that fine art, drama, and dance can disperse and convey subtle ideologies, but is this propaganda? Propaganda has come to be thought of in a pejorative manner and is often used as blanket terminology. Nye disputes that soft power and propaganda are the same thing; he states that the spreading of impartial information of soft power resources is something that propaganda can never do. While there has been criticism of his theory of soft power, in this paper I will argue that soft power is a valid and useful concept as a means of communication without the negative connotations of propaganda. Through looking at the exhibition Two Decades of American Painting, this paper will demonstrate that the United States in its public diplomacy efforts during the Cold War was using art exhibitions as a means of soft power, not as propaganda. Two Decades of American Painting was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the United States Information Service and toured Japan, India and Australia during 1966 and 1967.

Keywords: Propaganda, Soft Power, Politics, Culture, Exhibitions

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.165-172. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 586.736KB).

Rebecca Elliott

Art History, School of Humanities, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Rebecca Elliott has a PhD in Art History from The Australian National University, Canberra. Her PhD research focused on the role of soft power and public diplomacy in connection with the visual arts. Her current research explores the interconnections between art and politics.


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