Only two years ago, John Heartfield’s powerful political art images were historic warnings. Politicians seize power by spreading lies. They rely on ignorance, apathy, and blind nationalism. Their tools are words to spread bigotry, racial hatred, religious intolerance, and misogyny. Their goal is to become dictators. German artist John Heartfield responded to the lies of Adolf Hitler, fascists, and Third Reich by creating history’s greatest collection of political art.
In 2017, Heartfield’s anti-fascist antiwar collages are no longer simply reminders. They’re powerful political art speaking to the current state of American politics. Heartfield risked his life to make it clear there are no “alternative facts.” There is only the reality that ugliness of thought leads directly to the ugliest of actions.
John Heartfield designed covers for brochures and announcements (Dada) as early as 1916. During World War II, all sides used leaflets and brochures as propaganda tools. If one accepts the definition that propaganda is using lies to convince someone or some group of people that something very bad for them is actually very good for them, then Heartfield did not believe in practicing the art of propaganda.
Heartfield showed that facts could be revealed by taking reality and rearranging its elements to reveal the true nature of bad actors. A major goal of a powerful political art museum would be to use images to take the words of hypocritical politicians and turn them against them.
John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi anti fascist montages for covers of brochures were often more effective than the rhetorical propaganda contained within.
In 1943, Heartfield framed Hitler as a brutal ape complete with a dumb expression. Heartfield brilliant portrait of Hitler made it clear that while politicians may dream of becoming dictators, the world always turns.