The Art of Politics

Artwork has long played a pivotal role in its connection to political parties and candidates. It all started in 1828 when then Democratic candidate Andrew Jackson used the symbol of a donkey on his campaign posters in an amusing response to his opposers who had referred to him as a “jackass.” Jackson then went on to win and become the first Democratic President of the United States. The term “seeing the elephant” was used by soldiers to indicate the experience of combat in the Civil War and thus elephants were starting to be used as Republican symbols but it didn’t start to become popularized until later on.

jackson donkey
thomas nast "third term panic"

thomas nast "third term panic"

MacArthur and his regiment soon had their inaugural exposure to hostile fire, “seeing the elephant” at Perryville, Kentucky in October 1862.

MacArthur and his regiment soon had their inaugural exposure to hostile fire, “seeing the elephant” at Perryville, Kentucky in October 1862.

elephant

The prominent political cartoonist Thomas Nast then popularized the Democratic and Republican symbols of the elephant and donkey in an 1874 cartoon entitled “Third Term Panic” for the Harper’s Weekly publication. The image showcases a meager donkey wearing the skin of lion who was able to frighten all the other forest animals away, including an elephant wearing “The Republican Vote” label. The cartoon was used to mock the New York Herald’s criticism of President Ulysses S. Grant’s supposed bid for an additional third term. Other cartoonists started to use the symbols of elephant and donkey in their works after the publication of “Third Term Panic.”

thomas nast

thomas nast

thomas nast

thomas nast

The use of the color red for Republican and blue for Democrat didn’t become mainstream until fairly recent history with the popularization of the color television. CBS was the first Network to use colored maps on election night and by the 2000 election, the terms “red state” and blue state” became the tradition we now know. The election that year between George W. Bush and Al Gore was so tight that the Networks had to use the opposing colors to demonstrate just how close the race was. Red and blue are contrasting and easily identifiable colors that help audiences understand who “won” each state.

campaigns in color 1
Election Map
speculating 2016 election outcome

speculating 2016 election outcome

Red, blue, or black & white, political illustrations, perhaps more so than campaign posters alone, often were used to progress the issues of an election, or current sociopolitical environment.  In the past, we've seen the issues of slavery, socialism (perceived), the gold standard, national debt, and the under-represented's civil rights artistically communicated.  Once endowed with the power of political expression, illustrators made attempts to sway women's political stands.  Political cartoons remain prominent in every print newspaper and online editorial available today.

two platforms collage
woman voters collage
economy collage

Before he ran for President, then Senator Barack Obama spoke out against the division between States at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He urged the idea of bringing Americans together in solidarity and that “We are all one people.” It was this speech that brought him out of the relative unknown into the global political sphere. When Obama ran for President in 2008, street artist and activist Shephard Fairey created the now iconic poster of Obama with the word “HOPE” emblazoned across the bottom. That image went on to represent Obama’s campaign and how the younger generation especially hoped for changes in the political system following the problematic Bush presidency.  Having an artist popular among youth culture like Fairey helped Obama secure younger voters and played a part in his successful run for President.

obama hope poster