Beyond Propaganda: Art as a Policy Analytic Tool


C.P.Snow deplored the gulf between the “two cultures” of art and science a half-century ago; STEAM is gaining ground on STEM as (for example) the tech world embraces graphics. What about social science? Political actors have always used art (posters, songs, and literature) to advocate for policies, and particular works have been influential, as Alex Ross’ notable recent Wagnerism records. We find art, including plastic and performing arts, instrumental in analyzing and teaching policy analysis, and have exercised this perspective in teaching courses as varied as Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management and Implementation, and our Introduction to Policy Analysis. The strong version of our claim, that we illustrate in the paper, is that policy analysis is incomplete without attention to what artists elucidate about how policy actually work: for example, that criminal justice policy analysis is improved by serious attention to Florestan’s aria in Fidelio. Edelman and Borins, among others, have examined the direct influence of the arts on political choice and action, but the direct use of art as a policy-analytic and teaching tool remains underexplored. Its utility lies at the core of learning: a scientific paper is read from beginning to end and its propositions are rooted in a single set of facts and popular discourse is similarly linear. But a painting, in contrast, is viewed both all over and from detail to detail; opera even allows more than one character (and the orchestra) to react differently and simultaneously to the same state of affairs.


Michael O Hare
Professor, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, California, United States

Jean Johnstone
Lecturer, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, California, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Learning in Higher Education


Art, Policy Analysis, Pedagogy, Interdisciplinary, Cultural Exchange

Digital Media


Beyond Propaganda (pptx)