Though most of the horrors you’ll see in the art on these pages are imaginary, like movie monsters and fantasy creatures, some horrors are quite real, and we occasionally need to stop an remind ourselves of them.
For those in other parts of the world, I’ll mention that today is Memorial Day here in the U.S. Though it’s a day associated with barbecues, trips to the beach and the unofficial start of Summer; it is a holiday created to honor those who have lost their lives in military service over the course of the nation’s history.
In recent years, much of that observance has focused on World War II, the surviving veterans of which are at an age where those who remember the war directly are rapidly shrinking in number.
It occurred to me to look back at another generation to the previous large scale conflict, World War I, from which there are fewer surviving witnesses, mostly those who were children at the time, but enough to remember that the horrors of war don’t diminish with distance in the past.
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson was a British artist, associated with the Futurist movement and the less well known Vorticists, who became an official war artist in 1917. The Vorticists were a short lived but influential group of British artists who took the geometric latticework of Cubism and Futurism and sent it whirling through their interpretation of motion in the painted image.
Nevinson brought the fractured dynamics of the group’s style to the portrayal of scenes from “The War to End All Wars”, at first in service of the image the government wanted to portray; but eventually, from his experience as an ambulance driver, in a revulsive response to the atrocities of war.
His painting Paths of Glory, in which the stylized angles of Vorticism are abandoned for a more direct approach, (above) was initially banned by the military censors, but Nevinson managed to display it during the war outside of official channels.
Nevinson was one of the artists chosen to paint large works for the Imperial War Museum’s Hall of Remembrance; where his painting Harvest of Battle hangs along with John Singer Sargent’s famous Gassed (see my post on Art of War).
Art depicting the horror or war is not often brought to the fore, even in museums where major pieces are part of the collection, so it often falls to places like the Hall of Remembrance to keep it on display.
Actually, it’s up to us to look up and remember the images with which artists have tried to impress on us the inhumanity and tragedy of war, particularly when we are asking our friends, neighbors or sons and daughters to face it for any reason.
Nevinson's Taube and brief article from Art of War on BBC
Nevinson's Paths of Glory from Art and War on BBC
Art of the First World War (9 images - scroll down for Nevinson)
C.R.W. Nevinson on National Galleries of Scotland (6 lithographs)
Article and one image on MyLearning
War in the Air (1 image from Archives of Ontario)
C.R.W. Nevinson (biographic essay by Michael Walsh from BNet
Striking visions of the First World War: CRW Nevinson (review of exhibit at Impreial War Museum in 2000)
14 Replies to “CRW Nevinson”
We should stop asking our friends, neighbors or sons and daughters to face it.
And let’s be honest. Regardless of what it might have been in the past, Memorial Day is now just another glorification of war. There is no mention in the parades of the civilians murdered by American soldiers. Nor is there any mention of foreign soldiers killed, on their native soil, by invading Americans. The message to children and adults is clear: to die while killing the enemies of the American state is the highest calling in life.
I just heard church bells playing the Star Spangled Banner. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Thanks for your thoughts.
If artists can help us remember the cost of war, perhaps we will be slower to allow our governments to use nationalistic fervor to give them the license to take us down that path.
Remembrance is the operative word, both of those who sacrificed and of what we truly ask of those we send off to battle.
If we remember, we may stop to question.
I agree that artists can try to raise awareness of the reality of war. We all know people are not going to see that reality on Fox News or CNN, or in the New York Times.
I think we must also stop glorifying the soldier’s profession. When we talk about “honor” and “sacrifice,” this only makes it easier for the state to recruit the young and impressionable as weapons. The higher brain functions are not fully developed by the late teens, when a person is targeted by the military’s enlistment propaganda.
How many American soldiers are self-identified Christians? Under what circumstances does Christ permit killing the enemy? What does it mean when the churches take part in the flag-waving jingoism, if not that the U.S. government is above God (idolatry)?
Remembrance would be appropriate if the context were truthful instead of propagandistic. But remembrance in parades, with flags waving and uniformed men marching with rifles and slogans like “support the troops,” is just business as usual.
Yes, a holiday far too wrapped up in propaganda. I wish I could be optimistic, Charley, about your concept that remembering might prompt us to question.
My son will be deployed to Northern Iraq in two months to a rapid response unit that currently sees combat about three times a week. How is it that the previous president was impeached for lying about trysts with an intern while the sitting president uninterrupted has sent 4,000 American young men and women to their deaths along with more than 60,000 Iraqis under the false pretenses of WMDs and Al Qaeda in Iraq, among other now well-documented lies?
I see people who are more angered by the fact that this ‘oil-man’ president from Texas has brought us to gas at more than $4 a gallon. It is strange to me on this Memorial Day that a leader who speaks of noble sacrifices couldn’t bring himself to spend five minutes with Cindy Sheehan.
While we remember heroes, let’s not forget the cowards and imbeciles who were only too happy to lead ‘a free and democratic nation’ into this.
As much as I dislike the way that governments recruit young people into the military with nationalistic hype, I don’t discount the need for an effective and prepared military, and I’m not ready to throw out the concepts of “honor” and “sacrifice” because I think they are very real.
Without getting too far into a purely political discussion, I’ll say that I think it’s the jingoistic nationalism with which the earnest contributions of young soldiers are misused that we must guard against.
I think it is a basic mistake that human beings make, to place their faith and fate in so-called “leaders”, and abdicate their own responsibility to judge what governments do in their name and resist them when necessary.
Any American who thinks that patriotism means “my country right or wrong”, or worse, “my leaders right or wrong”, doesn’t understand the very principals on which this nation was founded.
The power that artists have is to change awareness, whether it is the awareness of the beauty in the spiral of a sunflower, or of the horror and madness of nations sending their children out to murder one another in the name of national “greatness”.
Artists are only one part of a nation’s conscience and consciousness, but a vital one.
I am a artist and a combat veteran and I’ve never ‘murdered’ anyone. Mr. Parker and Bitter bring up some interesting arguments, Walter’s however aren’t even worth bothering with as foaming at the mouth rants never are. Remaining on the topic of war and art rather than the political aspect;
As an artist I depict soldiers and war more than any other subject. People often ask me why, a lot of people think it’s an unsuitable subject, that paintings are only supposed to be of ‘beutiful things’. War isn’t fun, it is horrible but it is also the perfect subject for art. During war you get every possible human emotion. There is tragedy, heroism, sorrow, joy, anger, fear, boredom, and yes even glory at times. TO me art is best when it is telling a story and the basic fact is, no matter what your opinion on it, is that war is the story of mankind. War is people at their worst and their best, what better subject could their be for art?
But please, take it easy with words like ‘murder’. The Taliban killed some of my friends but while they have murdered a lot of people the Taliban didn’t murder any of my buddies and my friends and I never murdered anyone. If a cop ends up in a shoot out with some crimminals and if they kill those crimminals is that murder?
I appreciate very much this post, Charley – along with Rob, Bitter and your comments. Like Bitter, I’m the parent of a soldier and have struggled with the confusing emotions this new role has brought up. Thank you for making it a little easier.
Thanks for your comments.
I wouldn’t dismiss Walter’s comments out of hand. I recognize in them the frustration of many who think that their government is doing something immoral in their name, and feel powerless to change those actions. The heated emotions raised by such circumstance often lead to an exaggerated emphasis on certain points, and perhaps a tendency to lay some of the blame inappropriately.
I appreciate the value of artists showing us the truth of war, and I have written before on the role of combat artists, last Veterans Day and last Memorial Day.
My use of the word “murder” was carefully chosen and I’ll stand by it as I’ve used it here. The word murder, both legally and morally, refers to the intent underlying the action. I should make it clear, however, in case my original statement is worded poorly in other respects, that I refer here to the intent of the governments, not of the individual soldiers, and I speak in broad terms about the actions of nations throughout history.
Thanks for your comments. I think it’s a confusing and frustrating time for anyone in this country with a conscience and an awareness what is happening in those areas where our troops are deployed, but particularly so for those whose children are in harms way.
I think the media and the government are too quick to gloss over what it is that we are asking of our soldiers and their families, so it’s up to us to remind ourselves.
“And letâ€™s be honest. Regardless of what it might have been in the past, Memorial Day is now just another glorification of war. There is no mention in the parades of the civilians murdered by American soldiers. Nor is there any mention of foreign soldiers killed, on their native soil, by invading Americans.”
Let’s be REAL honest, Walter. Everything you have — EVERYTHING — you have because somebody much more worthy than you will ever be fought for it. You’re just a flabby free-rider on this bus. That would be fine except for the fact you insist on preening about in your shoddy rags of soul asking for admiration.
There’s nothing to admire in you Walter. Nothing at all. Not even your ignorance is unusual.
While I appreciate your comments and the emotion behind them, I need to point out that we are starting down a path here that is a little reminder of how people become divided.
As soon as we start putting one another in boxes with simplistic labels on them, and shut our minds to any further consideration of the other’s point of view (and I’m referring here to both Walter’s comments and your own), we let our emotions determine how we respect or disrespect each other.
This is the kind of spark that those who want power over us (read “politicians” and “leaders” of all stripes and nations), will eagerly fan into the flames of heated divides, with themselves, of course, presented as the champion of “our” values over “theirs”.
We are all subject to this aspect of human nature (my hand is going up here as well), and must guard against it constantly.
Multiply this tendency over time and scale and you have nations going to war.
Only reasoned discourse, open mindedness and clear awareness offers any hope of curtailing this motion toward divisiveness.
This is where art can speak with a clarity that words sometimes lack, and perhaps even appeal to a part of us that is beyond the control of “leaders” and buzzwords.
It appears my comments have provoked some anger. That’s unfortunate. In the interest of promoting an understanding of where I am coming from, and if it is alright with Charley, I would like to respond.
The United States is predominantly Christian. The foundational figure in Christianity is Jesus. Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah, God made flesh, the one who reveals the will of God to the world.
Jesus teaches his followers, unequivocally, by word and deed, NOT to return violence for violence. Not only that, we are to love our enemies, to return good for evil. The cross and the lamb â€” not the sword and the wolf â€” are symbols of Christianity.
I realize that not everyone is a Christian. About 80% of the world’s people don’t even claim to believe that Jesus is God. It is understandable that these people would reject the teachings of Jesus pertaining to violence and enmity. And we all know these teachings fly in the face of what the world teaches us about violence and enmity, from the cradle onward.
It is also understandable that one might believe Jesus is God but still, in a moment of crisis, lose faith and allow fear or some other reality to take control of his or her actions. This is sin and God forgives sin.
But to call oneself a Christian while participating in, or justifying, the bloodshed of war, makes no sense. To call oneself a Christian while belittling the teachings of Jesus pertaining to violence and enmity makes no sense. It is impossible that Jesus could be the Messiah, the Son of God, and be wrong about how to conquer evil and death. The only possibility is that Jesus is not who Christians say he is.
All those self-described Christians who are bracing for war against the Muslims to “save Christianity” are demonstrating profound disbelief in Jesus as the Messiah. They may be trying to save their lives in this world but they are not saving Christianity. For Jesus, victory does not require the assistance of guns and bombs, only fidelity to his word. So which god are they worshipping?
Parenthetically, to the fellow who addressed me above, if I owe everything to the soldier, must this not be equally so for every person living everywhere? And yet, how can this be true when, for instance, little children in Japan and Vietnam were burned alive, i.e. had everything taken from them, by this “more worthy” human being who supposedly gives me everything I have.
Please try to understand. To me, God is the father of all humanity. He does not kill the Japanese and save the Americans. And while the nation state for which the soldier fights is here today, gone tomorrow â€” as perishable as the cloth out of which its flag is sewn â€” what God offers humanity is eternal.
personally, I’m just surprised that I didn’t hear about any anti-war actions centered around memorial day weekend. is it seen as tasteless, or are people just failing to get the word out?
there have been some interesting art installations and other pieces done around the current war already; it’s interesting to see how they reflect our current postmodern times, much as this painting reflects in many ways the tastes of the time it portrays….
And please see Kerr Eby’s war art. He covered both wars, WWI and WWII.
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