The Art Of War


Inviting the viewer to identify with its mother-heroine, this 1943 poster looks a lot like a movie ad. Of course, it's actually pitching domestic support for the war effort--in effect, casting the viewer as a heroine in a real-life saga.

The poster is one of 33 U.S. war posters on display at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena through January 26. Covering both world wars, they range in style from realistic illustration to stylized graphics. With a few exceptions (notably the famous Uncle Sam recruiting poster), most address not actual or potential troops but civilians at home. The goal is to imaginatively enlist the general public in the greater cause: heightening sympathy with allies, strengthening antagonism toward enemies, and giving everyday hassles like recycling cooking grease a grander significance.

Can such propaganda create social solidarity? Or does it merely reinforce and direct existing feelings?

Watch a slideshow. Download a podcast on the exhibit. Read an illustrated essay.