Is there any legal remedy to the spread of lies and misinformation? Should there be? While scholars explored these questions through the Knight Institute’s year-long “Lies and the Law” project, artist Piotr Szyhalski created a series of images visualizing the project’s major ideas and questions. A professor of media arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Szyhalski has spent much of his career creating art that closely examines and criticizes government speech and propaganda, making him an ideal fit for this project. 

To symbolize the intellectual and political tensions between lies and the First Amendment, Szyhalski created black-and-white, ink brush illustrations reminiscent of mid-20th century propaganda. In this style, he produced a poster for each of the “Lies and the Law” project’s five roundtable discussions. The illustrations each focused on different symbols and icons—for “Lies and Democracy,” speech bubbles moving from mouths to ears; for “Lies and Elections,” a silhouetted head serving as a ballot box; for “Lies and the Press,” a vintage radio microphone; for “Government Lies,” hands shaking in front of the Capitol; and for “Lies and Counterspeech,” a storm receding from or, depending on how you view it, encroaching on the sunlight. 

Szyhalski also designed the project’s main image—a ladder sitting in a white opening surrounded by a black expanse. To him, the image is far more complex than it initially looks. “There’s something super immediate about that image … [but] you kind of have to orient yourself—is the ladder allowing somebody to come out of the hole or is the ladder allowing somebody to go into the hole?’ To him, the simultaneous immediacy and complexity of black-and-white poster art make it a perfect medium for exploring “the language” of propaganda, disinformation, and lies.

On April 8, at the Institute’s “Lies, Free Speech, and the Law” symposium, we screened a short video featuring Szyhalski talking about his work. As he explains, he seeks to acknowledge “the shades of gray … to expand the space between binary orientations of truth and lie, and [to try] to figure out how we exist in that space.”

Watch the video and learn more about Szyhalski and his work: