This Friday and Saturday, the Wolfsonian library hosted two scheduled library visits by local university students. The first group came from our own university, Florida International and was made up of students learning VTS or Visual Thinking Strategies; the second group hailed from Barry University and were more directly focused on the topic of propaganda.
On Friday, the entire reading room table was laid out with a wide variety of rare books, periodicals and ephemera aimed at encouraging the group to focus on the imagery and design of certain artifacts and to ask questions of the material as they might do with the literary or intellectual content. The session was designed to be a participatory experience, with the students being asked to parse the objects and to delve ever more deeply into the visual narrative by gathering information from the group about what each individual saw. Finally, after exhausting the group’s collective powers of observation, the class was subjected to a series of questions aimed at provoking them into delving ever more deeply. They were asked, for example, to consider such questions as who made the objects and who was the intended audience? Was there a visual narrative, and might there also have been a “subtext” or subliminal message embedded in the design? They were also challenged to consider the historic, social, and cultural context in which the object was created, distributed, or displayed. They were encouraged to think about the possible implications of the techniques and materials used in creating the artifacts.

Almost as soon as this first group was out the door, the display was dismantled and a new one set up for the Barry University students studying propaganda techniques. A few items on the table were ideally matched to the interests of both groups and so left out a second time. Among this latter group were some periodical covers with photomontages designed by John Heartfield (1891-1968). A committed Communist, Heartfield Anglicized his name from Helmut Herzfeld to disassociate himself from the Nazis seizing power in his native Germany, and used collages of photographs to lampoon and ridicule the forces of Capitalism and Fascism. In an age where fascist dictators told lies through the “objective” medium of staged photography, Heartfield used the “subjective” and creative technique of photomontage to recapture “truth.”

Here for your consideration are a few of Heartfield’s masterful creations. See how well you can master the art of VTS. As an added note as to just how effective and transcendent these images proved to be, the top image inspired a rock group in the early 1990s to recycle and adapt it as the artwork adorning their own record album cover. See if you can come up with the name of the band.

~ by "The Chief" on March 1, 2010.

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