Art et pouvoir – Art and power – Bac d’anglais

Voici une fiche qui récapitule tout ce qu’il faut savoir sur l’art et le pouvoir – art and power – qui fait partie des huit axes d’études du cycle terminal en anglais.

Au fil de l’histoire, les hommes ont toujours combattu pour acquérir de plus en plus de pouvoirs et de propriétés. Aujourd’hui, ce combat reste d’actualité, mais les règles ont changé. En effet, si les conflits ne se fondent plus sur la domination, ils sont devenus aujourd’hui des confrontations d’opinion, dues à l’opposition entre des intérêts divergents. Ainsi, l’art est un moyen efficace pour exprimer son point de vue. Il permet soit d’influencer les autres ou les grandes organisations, tout comme il peut être un contre-pouvoir. 

The notion of “Art”

The official program emphasizes this ambiguous relationship between art and power. This axis could be summed up in one question : Is art a power or a counter-power? Briefly, can art help wielding power? Does art undermine the exercise of power? How has the relationship between the two notions evolved through history and depending on geographical areas? 

Relevant examples you can use to talk about art and power

The “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin : an illustration of the power of art

Staunch advocate of the African-American cause, Aretha Franklin has long fought alongside with Martin Luther King. She grew up in Detroit, and was an important activist in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. She was also a committed feminist, hence her song “Respect”, published in 1967, being the anthem of freedom and equality. In that song, she claims respect from all men regarding their wives : “All I’m askin’ for, is a little respect when you get home”. In 2020, the biographical movie about Aretha Franklin’s life is entitled “Respect”, in tribute to that international song. This example testifies to the great power and clout art can have over people : it makes us gather around shared principles and values and helps advocate important issues accurately.

Captain America : Art as a counter-power, but also as a way of spreading the anti-communist American ideology during the Cold War

It is an american comics strip and character coined in 1941 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, as an answer to the rise of totalitarian regimes in the 1930s (Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, the Soviet Union…). Captain America’s foes mostly embody these evils of the past century. Captain America is definitely the symbol of the fight against all the wars and injustices the 20th century has brought. The character embodies the American patriotism and is an allegory of the American unity through ages. Therefore, Captain America has crossed years and centuries and still remains an icon for not only children, but also adults.


Propaganda in totalitarian regimes

Art can also be used to spread a vision or an ideology, in order to make people believe in our principles. Propaganda through art is usually official and run by states and governments. It was the case during the 1930s when totalitarian regimes (nazi, soviet and fascist) tried to take control of their people’s thoughts and ideas through art, by building the image of the leader, the chief of the nation (in German the Führer, namely Hitler). This will to indoctrinate the people can be seen in the official placards displayed by both the Soviet and the Nazi regimes, in which the leader of the nation (Hitler and Staline) are shown as superior men, as if they had all the power between their hands. These placard tend to glorify the military power of the nation, and encourage citizens to become patriots and to rally to the principles and ideology of the state. This example can be used to show how art can influence the destiny of an entire people, hence being a dangerous weapon in hands of he who controls it. 


How to use these examples during your exam ?

Example of a question : “Write a short article about an artist of your choice and tell about his/her impact on your life.” (Session 2020, classe de Première, voie générale et technologique)

In this subject, the text given was about Aretha Franklin. So you could also focus on the figure of Toni Morrison, an american novelist who was also committed to defending African American rights. There are two prerequisites : choosing an artist, and mostly analysing his impact on your life. In this case, you can say it helped raise your awareness on the African American cause, an issue that is still prevailing nowadays. You can also use another example you are fond of, and you advocate, to show how the work of the artist you chose inspired your commitment (in an association or through your own art). 

Second example : “If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.” (Session 2020, classe de Première, voie générale et technologique)

The most important word in this question is “only”. It can definitely be the word which structures all your essay. You can thus organise your essay as follows : 

  • A first paragraph which agrees with the statement, showing the great impact music can have in our world. Many examples can be used here : the most relevant one could be charity song “Imagine”, denouncing the severe famine in Ethiopia in 1984, a song which resurfaced after the Haïti earthquake in 2010 and was responsible for a great worldwide solidarity.
  • A second paragraph to qualify you point a view, showing that other forms of art can be efficient, or to show that music can sometimes be useless. If you chose to speak about another form of art, comic strips Captain America can be a relevant example. 

Useful vocabulary and key words

  • Contre-pouvoir : counter-power 
  • Exercer le pouvoir : to exert/wield power 
  • Influence : influence/clout 
  • Critiquer : criticize (/!\ a film critic = un critique de cinéma)
  • Un opposant : an opponent 
  • Un fervent défenseur : a staunch advocate (of something)
  • Être engagé : to be committed (to something)
  • Un régime politique : a political regime 
  • Les régimes politiques : démocratie = democracy ; dictature = dictatorship 
  • Peintre : painter 
  • Chanteur(euse) : singer 
  • Poète/Poétesse : poet 


To conclude, you should always try and understand the underlying issues of the topic, and underpin your arguments with relevant examples. As you can see, many subjects ask for personal examples, so try to take ownership of the examples you use to be as convincing as possible. In the case of this notion and the relationship between art and power being very ambiguous, be careful to qualify your arguments, so as to be contrasted enough. 

Pour continuer les révisions d’anglais, c’est par ici.