The interests of the main global powers and the ideological commitment of different governments and citizens entered into a debate that the League of Nations attempted to resolve via its Non-Intervention Committee. Rather than a multi-lateral treaty, the outcome was more a series of declarations of intent that were ineffectual in avoiding international presence in the Spanish Civil War and ultimately sought to benefit the Nationalist faction.
The war was observed with great interest across the world, and the clash between fascism and democracy, the ruling classes and the people, gave rise to mass solidarity with the Republican cause in intellectual circles and among activists and ordinary citizens. The International Brigades and different aid committees for the Republic channelled this widespread social response, which stood outside of official circles of government.
In turn, the international art community’s response was overwhelming and many artists embraced Picasso’s words to the American Friends of Spanish Democracy: “Artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilisation are at stake”. The Spanish Civil War would ultimately become a space of experimentation and a testing ground for a committed art that went on to develop across the globe during the Second World War. Inside this context, one of the standout works is Medals for Dishonor (1938–1940) by American sculptor David Smith, whereby each medallion represents a particular evil of wartime. Started during the Civil War, these pieces progressed in tandem with the spread of fascism across Europe and America.
Images of violence and the victims also marked a new way of viewing war, both for reporters like Capa and artists such as Le Corbusier and Lipchitz.