Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19/Truth in Franco's Regime

How do art and literature express the truth about Franco’s regime?

This chapter discusses the relationship between notions of truth in politics, art and literature. We will analyse the political conflict that arose during the Spanish Civil War and the way that it was expressed by Pablo Picasso's painting "Guernica" and the book "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell.

Assessing truth in Arts and Politics can be difficult as artistic truth is often considered to be fully subjective. Interdisciplinary approach allowed us to appreciate the conflict of conceiving truth in Arts and Politics, discriminating between the objectively true aspects of their accounts, and acknowledging how the biased messages help us picture the atmosphere during Franco's regime.

Introduction edit

Art and Literature can be used as tools to reconstruct the truth in past events. This task becomes more challenging when controversial political situations are involved. Between 1939 and 1975 Spain was ruled by a fascist dictatorship directed by the General Franco [1]. In 1936 the Popular Front, a leftist coalition, came to power in Spain.[2] After their election, Franco organised a coup in Spain that triggered the Spanish Civil War.[3]

During the war, artists and authors tried to expose the truth about Franco's regime. Artists that resided in Spain were limited by political censorship and therefore could not openly express anti-fascist messages.[4] However, Orwell and Picasso did not face censorial limitations because they worked outside Spain. Both artists were Leftists and opposed to Franco’s regime.

Subjectivity is a product of one's perception, culture and environment. Objectivity is independent from human biases.[5] What will follow is an application of the latter concepts in the analysis of Guernica and Homage to Catalonia.

Assessment of truth in Art edit

"Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth” Pablo Picasso

Art is one of the best ways to have a lasting influence over time. During Spanish civil war, Pablo Picasso expressed his outrage against Franco's regime with Guernica. This enormous mural-sized painting was created in 1937 and became one of Picasso's most famous artworks. The painting is related to the bombing of Guernica executed by Hitler's German bombers, allied with Francisco Franco. This bombing almost destroyed the entire city and killed more than a thousand civilians.[6] This fascists' attack was a consequence of the Basque Nation’s attempt to introduce an independent democratic government. Through his painting at the Paris Exhibition in 1937, Picasso denounced the massacre to the entire world.[7] Guernica became a symbol denouncing Franco’s fascist violence.[8]

Objectivity edit

Objective truth can be found in the painting through the symbols and scenes. Picasso used shocking scenes such as a mother holding her dead child. The powerful pain represented in the painting reflects the one felt by the Basque nation. Furthermore, Picasso used a lot of symbols in the painting and never explained what they represented. Most opinions thought that the bull characterised Franco, the horse was the Spanish nation, the mother and her dead child reflected the innocent civilians and the different parts of bodies found everywhere in the painting represented the city's destruction with its population.[9] All these symbols represent the real actors and consequences of the war which is proof of objectivity.

Moreover, since the painting was not censored by the French government[10], it allowed Picasso to show the plain truth without any barriers. The non-censorship greatly helped Picasso depict the truth.

Subjectivity edit

Nevertheless, there is an important subjective truth in this painting due to Picasso's biased perspective of the event. Firstly, Spain is Picasso’s home country which probably affected him deeply and urged him to depict the bombing as a slaughter. Moreover, the artist did not assist the tragedy, he came to know about the events from newspapers [11] in Paris. The painting was inspired by the pictures that reached Paris and manifestations of thousands of people protesting in the city against the disaster.[12] Picasso's work was based on his interpretation from the newspapers which is why the truth told is subjective.[13]

Finally, Picasso’s political beliefs may also explain why the painting is subjective. In fact, he stated, « No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy ». According to Picasso, art is used to send political messages. Indeed, the artist was politically engaged in the French Communist Party and was firmly opposed to fascism. Picasso's political bias also expresses the subjectivity of Guernica.[14]

Assessment of truth in Literature edit

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear"- George Orwell

Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia after volunteering as a soldier in the POUM, the Marxist Spanish Revolutionary party, during the Spanish Civil War.[15] He documented his experiences volunteering in the Aragonian war, emphasising on the peculiar conditions faced by the soldiers in the trenches. After the POUM was made illegal in 1937, Orwell was forced to run away.[16]

Objectivity edit

Experiencing the war and writing in first person allowed Orwell to describe the objective truth about the atmosphere in Spain during the revolution. He started writing Homage to Catalonia immediately after leaving the front which gave him the capacity to remember details and express a more precise truth on what he had just lived.

Moreover, the publication of Homage to Catalonia in England was not limited by censorship guidelines.[17] Therefore, the accuracy of Orwell’s original report is likely to be truthful and objective because there were no regulations in England protecting Franco's Empire. This book was successfully published in England in 1938, one year after his return.[18] Homage to Catalonia was published in Spain for the first time in 1969, after a number of rejections and amendments.[19]

Subjectivity edit

Even though Orwell’s aim was to tell the truth he admitted that art was linked to politics: «no book is genuinely free from political bias».[20] He was politically biased because he was committed to the socialist party and fought on the side of the POUM. Orwell himself acknowledged the limitations of his reportage "my partisanships, my mistakes of fact and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one part of the events". The author's bias is one of many limitations to the accuracy of the truth.

This may have resulted in a form of implicit self-censorship described by Abellan as the response to his personal, social and historical constraints.[21]Historians have attempted to find ways to overcome the limitations of literature when reconstructing past events.

Conclusion edit

Artistic truth can be considered as propositional truth. Propositions are "locus of truth" found in an art piece.[22] To assess the validity of these loci it is necessary to understand the historical background of the artists, the events that inspired their work, the policies regulating their publication, as well as the artistic processes behind the creation of their art.

Crossing the borders between artistic and political disciplines allowed us to appreciate what is considered true behind the events associated with the Spanish Civil War.

Sources edit

  1. Editors,Francisco Franco, History, published in 2009 [accessed on the 19th of November 2018] retrieved from
  2. John Simkin, 1936 Spanish Elections, SpartacusEducational updated in August 2014 [accessed December 3rd]
  3. editors, Spanish Civil War breaks out, History, published in 2010 [accessed on December 7th 2018]
  4. Marta Rioja Barrocal, English-Spanish Translations and Censorship in Spain 1962–1969, inTRAlinea, published in 2002; [accessed on the 29th of November 2018] Retrieved from
  5. Anna Papafragou, Epistemic modality and truth conditions, Science direct, published in 2005, [accessed on the 4th of December]
  6. Ishaan Taroor, Eighty years later, the Nazi war crime in Guernica still matters, the independent, published in 2017 [accessed on the 23rd of November 2018]
  7. Ed, Ten facts about the Bombing of Guernica, History Collection [accessed on the 5th of December 2018]
  8. Editors, Guernica Returned to Spain,History, published in 2010 [accessed on the 30th of November 2018]
  9. Jackie Pike, Piecing together Guernica, BBC News, published in 2009 [accessed on the 6th of December 2018]
  10. « Share America » [accessed on the 28th of December 2018]
  11. Art and Architecture TowardsPolitical Crises: The 1937 Paris International Exposition in Context, culturedarm [accessed on the 17th of November 2018]
  12. Martin Minchom, The truth about Guernica: Picasso and the lying press, The Volunteer, published in 2012 [accessed on the 1st of December 2018]. Retrieved from
  13. Guernica: Testimony of War, pbs, [accessed on the 22nd of November 2018]
  14. Alex Danchev, Picasso's politics , the Guardian, published in may 2009,[accessed on the 29th of November 2018]
  15. Secker and Warbug,Homage to Catalonia, British Library, published in 1938 [accessed on the 25th of November 2018]
  16. Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell, Chapter 7.In, Published in penguin Books in 2013
  17. Marta Rioja Barrocal, English- Spanish Translations and Censorship in Spain 1962–1969, inTRAlinea, published in 2010[accessed on the 1st December 2018]
  18. The critical Heritage, Jeffrey Meyers, B.C.Southam editor, Introduction : Controversy, reviews and reputation, page 14, published in 1975
  19. Alberto Lazaro, The Censorship of George Orwell's Essays in Spain [accessed on the 2nd of December 2018]
  20. Tejvan Pettinger, Orwell's biography, Biography online,published in 2014 [accessed on the 19th of November 2018] socialism-george-orwell
  21. Marta Rioja Barrocal, English-Spanish Translations and Censorship in Spain 1962–1969, inTRAlinea, published in 2010 [accessed on the 1st December 2018]
  22. T. M. GREENE. The Arts and the Art of Criticism, Page 80, 1940, Princeton University Press. London, Access date 10th of November 2018