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Sight and Blindness in WWI Propaganda [Model Abstract]

David M. Lubin, “Losing Sight: War, Authority, and Blindness in British and American Visual Cultures, 1914-22,” Art History 34.4 (Sept. 2011): 796-817.

Abstracted by Tyler Garrison.

Lubin investigates the analytical uses of historic propaganda as more than the tactics of a government to influence the decisions of its citizens. He determines “seeing, being seen, and not being able to see” as major concerns to American and British populations of 1914-1922 (798). Examining World War I recruitment posters and war scene paintings as his sources, he assesses ten images divided into three distinct groups for comparison. Three direct appeal posters (two featuring Lord Kitchener and Flagg’s I Want You for U.S. Army), three indirect appeal posters (Kealey’s Women of Britain, Brey’s Which Side of the Window Are You?, and Lumley’s ‘Daddy what did YOU do in the Great War?’), and four wartime paintings by Sargent (particularly Gassed and General Officers of the Great War). Lubin reveals the common themes of sight used throughout the works, explaining their abilities to “emotionally blackmail” citizens into joining the war effort (816). These common themes and details were distinguished by the close comparison of both syntax–the use of “you”–and visual elements–symbolism within the objects displayed and position of the eyes–in illustrations and paintings within their groups. The direct appeals center on national symbols addressing the everyman through emulation or parody. Group two focuses on the use of windows and the unsuccessful appeal by Lumley of a man who has seen too much. The paintings then provide further detail into the inability to see, in Gassed, and what it means to be seen, in General Officers. As a collective whole, these groups assert the overall topic of vision in the World War I society. In a broader sense, Lubin’s claim that propaganda also documents the common fears of the generation it was used on creating an insightful look into how it was viewed at the time as well as its view today. [302 Words]