Monday, August 07, 2017

NEW REFLECTIONS ON OLD COMBAT ART, part 2

Did fine artists and illustrators react differently to World War I?

Many historians believe that World War I changed the path of fine art.  In the years leading up to the war, art had already begun to explore modernism and the industrial age.  But no one was prepared for the way scientific progress changed the nature of war: the invention of the tank, air warfare, the development of poison gas, and mass killings that didn't discriminate between combatant and civilian-- these were just the tip of the iceberg.  More ominously, modern mass communications, mass transportation and other fruits of scientific progress which once appeared to hold such promise turned out to escalate and accelerate the worst of humanity.  They revealed a yawning existential void beneath a thin veneer of civilization.

 As a result of the World War,  nihilism seemed to spread throughout the fine art world.  For example, Dada represented a negation of everything that reason had once taught us.



Surrealism (a term invented by soldier Guillaume Apollinaire) represented another assault on common sense and social order.




Similarly, futurism urged in violent language the overthrow of the old values and order.  And the "New Objectivism" of George Grosz and Otto Dix cast aside traditional artistic images and values to show how the great war had shattered lives beyond any rational explanation.



 As art critic Reed Johnson wrote:
World War I reshaped the notion of what art is, just as it forever altered the perception of what war is.…. In visual art, surrealists and expressionists devised wobbly, chopped up perspectives and nightmarish visions of fractured human bodies and splintered societies slouching toward moral chaos.
Even as modernism severed its ties with the traditions of fine art, the illustrators of the AEF kept their faith.  These eight artists worked on the front lines and witnessed as much horror as anyone.  Their art contained as much drama and pain.  We can't assume that they were any less sensitive or talented than their fine art counterparts.  Yet, the illustrators didn't forsake their roots in rationality, or their belief that realism had something worthwhile to say.  They created powerful, beautifully designed, meaningful images in response to the same stresses that contorted fine art.

Harding

Harding

Aylward

Townsend

Why did the illustrators respond differently than the fine artists?

Perhaps the illustrators didn't succumb to nihilism because, unlike fine art, their art continued to be braced by a purpose (or to put it more crassly, a mission).   Nihilism is purposelessness, but illustration-- for better or worse-- by its nature has a purpose or function. In this case it is reportorial art, the art of witness.

Everyone is quick to point out that illustration's "function" imposes constraints and limitations that don't apply to fine art.  At the same time, I think a function or purpose has its advantages as well.  The reactions of the AEF illustrators to the horrors of war were moderated and tethered to coherence by the need to communicate with an audience.  These artists had to keep their wits about them.

Dunn

Harvey Dunn, The Sentry

Harvey Dunn, The Flare

It's important to emphasize that the AEF illustrators did not retreat to jingoistic propaganda (the opposite side of the spectrum from fine art).  The illustrators were not blind to the harsh realities of the front.  In fact, the US military staff was disappointed that the illustrations had no propaganda value.  A report concluded, "the officers of the General Staff [don't] appear to express very much interest in the pictures.  They do not serve either a military purpose nor propaganda purposes."

In short, the illustrators seemed to have worked between the pro-war propaganda on one side and the antiwar nihilistic despair on the other side.  Consider their merits and think about whether this is a good place on the spectrum for an artist to work.

Harvey Dunn, The Grenade
I AM PLEASED TO REPORT THAT THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION HAS OPENED A BRAND NEW WEB SITE DISPLAYING  MANY ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE AEF ILLUSTRATORS IN HIGH RESOLUTION.  I URGE YOU TO VISIT AND ENJOY THE ART.

29 comments:

kev ferrara said...

Wow, finally we get to see all these great works, hidden away for all these years. Wonderful. I can't get over how Townsend, Dunn, Aylward, and Harding took their compositional prowess to the battlefield and created so many resonant and evocative images on the fly (occasionally under, one assumes, artillery fire.) André Smith's different mastery of hard "versimilitude" is equally worthy, and a fascinating contrast with Pyle's students' more imagistic works.

I happened upon an unverified claim online that a fifth Pyle student, Henry J. Peck, was embedded as an official war artist with the 2nd infantry division. Still another Pyle student, Frank Bird Masters, was a camoufleur in the war.

Regarding your accompanying post, I would expand on the premise that the crucial factor, at least with the Pyle protégés, is faith: Faith in their art, their talent, each others' talent, their manhood and its societal value, dedicated hard work and its reward, the value of truth and meaning, faith in the value of their profession, their faith in the public's respect for and interest in their art, faith in their mission as war artists, faith in their country and its rise and its leaders, the fundamental goodness of their society, the achievements of their race, the teleology of progress, etc, etc, etc. All four were also more than likely religious. None of that made them see the war they re-imagined as art any differently than the reality it presented to them. Although their lens is decidedly poetic.

Because of this poetic streak, a hard-charging virtue-signaler, I imagine, would readily, and mistakenly, confuse the beauty of these pictures with a beautification of war. But (I preempt) that would be due to a mistaken emphasis on the pop connotations of the word beauty, rather than what I believe it actually denotes in aesthetic philosophy; the compelling aesthetic presentation of meaning. It is this presentation of meaning that is ennobled by clarification, design, and orchestration, not the sometimes grim facts used to substantiate that meaning.

Faithlessness and nihilism go hand in hand and swallow up and destroy everything. Such is also quite sneaky in that it creeps through the smallest cracks of doubt in the cultural firmament. And it erodes piecemeal whatever it can wick into, no matter how small. This is why I contend that postmodernism is only a late dissolute phase of all anti-pictorial, anti skill, anti-meaning movements.

MORAN said...

Awesome work. Thanks for sharing.

chris bennett said...

Great post David, and I completely agree with Kev's tally of it; the evidence you place before us here is one of the predictives embodied in the informed argument against Post Modernism.

Robert Cook said...

One could say the illustrators depict humanity's actions, and the fine artists depict what (they believe) humanity's actions reveal about our world and our nature.

Donald Pittenger said...

I think the key point is one you made in the sentence "In this case it is reportorial art, the art of witness."

These artists were reporters of a specialized kind. Of course each had his knapsack of personal history, beliefs, world views and the like which surely crept into the images. But all that was muted compared to the current crop of "reporters" who much more strongly try to impose their knapsack loads on their reportage. All this to the detriment of their product and consumers of said product.

One doesn't require a college degree in Journalism or Communications to be a decent reporter. The U.S. Army trained me in the basics during an eight-week course. After that, all one needs is a mindset of curiosity, plus on-the-job experience. And if reporting on a specialized field such as business or science, some understanding of a field's basics.

As for those war artists, their career training and experience hammered home the need to get the details right.

There was plenty of propaganda art during the Great War, both from governments and from individuals with ideological axes to grind. I find it good that the exhibit (and you too David) show that there was a middle ground covered by men who did some very fine work.

chris bennett said...

Donald:
If the virtue of these pictures was to "get the details right" then any photograph of the same scene would have these artists beaten hands down. Photography, by definition, has no "ideological axes to grind". It is only the context by which it is presented that provides the halo of it's propaganda spin, but this can be applied to all material, including art.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for a bolder, and more poetic, interpretation than I dared to put on this situation. Yes, I would say that faith, broadly defined, is the more substantial and meaningful name for what I've here called "purpose" or "function." It is certainly the antithesis of the despair exhibited by the artists whose faith was shattered by the War.

Not only that, while I would instinctively question the sexism implicit in your reference to "their manhood and its societal value," I won't even do that here because my reading of the diaries and papers of these eight intrepid illustrators suggests that there was something robust and brawny and potent about their approach to their mission. This is from Townsend's personal diary: "I left New York in a blinding snow, into the submarine zone with its constant alarms, and through it. My trip through London... with an air raid thrown in.... and the nervous excitement of finding myself suddenly in the war zone, for, while one realized at all times the dangers on the sea, one really felt he had arrived when he found himself in the midst of the bursting of enemy bombs and the sight of enemy planes...."

I'm not saying these illustrators were necessarily smarter or more astute to maintain faith in the rubble of World war I. In fact, that war may have been our initial tocsin (pre-nuclear age) that all hope is lost. The more prescient artists may be the ones who lament, and who attack our belief in reason and the trajectory on which it has set us. (As the ancient Greeks taught us, prescience is entirely different from a noble response to our ineluctable faith).

Without claiming to know the answers, I suppose one of my primary responses to the release of all these powerful pictures by the Smithsonian is that they are a new treasure trove of data on the subject. We've all seen Sargent's war painting of the blind soldiers, victims of a gas attack, just as we've all seen the completely different, shrill reactions of Otto Dix or Grosz. They are opposite sides of a spectrum of possible responses to the War. (And we must also keep in mind the data point of art that glamorizes war or serves as a cheerleader for the cause-- art by James Montgomery Flagg, Raleigh and others.) These pictures by artists who found succor in what you describe as "meaning that is ennobled by clarification, design, and orchestration" are a huge data dump on the subject. What should we glean from these eye witness accounts? These artists tried to convey alarm, shock, isolation, trauma-- some of their pictures are quite haunting in that respect-- but are they an adequate response to an unprecedented situation? Otto Dix might say, like the prophet Jeremiah, that clarification, design, and orchestration "heal the hurt my people slightly, crying, 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace."

These new pictures neither celebrate and encourage war nor wave the flag of surrender. They are earnest pictures created in that middle ground we have discussed. I think it is fascinating to see what they have contributed to the dialogue.

MORAN-- Agreed. Awesome work indeed.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- I agree that post-modernism has become extremely irksome. A lot of unhelpful and weak-kneed whiners, many of them ignorant of the values they are quick to disparage, many of them intellectually lazy and self-centered. Who among them could hold a candle to the greats of the past?

But of course, they are not living in the past, they are living in an existential universe, one with entirely new media, one with entirely new threats, one that has learned a lot of sad lessons since the time of Pyle and Sargent. Is it possible that there is a truer vision of the world buried under all the nonsense of post modernism? Is it possible that some kinds of art have outlived their usefulness? As Lincoln suggested, if our case is new, we must be prepared to think anew and act anew.

There were plenty of crummy artists around during the time of the old masters, but history has thankfully purged them so they don't clutter our vision of the great painters. It is harder work for us to purge the horrible post modernists because our affluent and permissive society has cluttered the landscape with an even larger percentage of crummy artists. But that doesn't, in my view, relieve us of our obligation to keep looking. Kev was pretty tough on all post-modernism at the end of his comment, and I gather that you share his view. I share the temptation but I'm not prepared to give up yet.

Robert Cook-- So are you saying that the fine artists take the analysis one level deeper, beyond the physical actions to the underlying intent?

chris bennett said...

David,
My issue with Post Modernism is not that it exists in a contemporary world and makes use of its technologies. My issue concerns its philosophical premise that meaningfulness in art is purely subjective and relative. And this premise necessarily precludes the understanding that art is a universal language used to aesthetically communicate insights about the human condition and therefore the only way it can affect individuals is to antagonise their learned cultural beliefs by way of deliberately mismatching its memes - in other words; a rich plastic lexicon and sensual grammar has been replaced by agitprop grunts.

chris bennett said...

And this, by definition, means that ALL works produced under this premise and fundamentally informed by its principles are thereby castrated to the point of being little more than, well, the act of pulling one's pants down in public?

kev ferrara said...

David,

This is the second time you've called me "sexist" on this blog, and I think its pretty gross. I am quite on board with the lawful, sane version of that program (equal rights, equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, judged on merit alone, no means no, against harassment, etc.) I was raised by a single mother who was a feminist, and my grandmother was a feminist in the 1930s when it was pretty much off the public radar.

The first time you accused me of "sexism", regarding the existence of femininity, after some pressing, you acknowledged you held the same opinion on the matter as I. So you essentially admitted you were just being a hypocrite by calling me out in the first instance. So why did you do it? What is prompting you to distance yourself from opinions you yourself hold? Are you trying to deflect readers from suspecting your own latent sexism (according to the latest PC fanaticism) by preemptively calling me out instead? Or are you just trying to score points/prevent demerits with somebody reading this blog?

And now here, while accusing me of "implicit sexism" you seem to be implying some anti-biological position; that years of testosterone boluses coursing through the veins of males, while having clear and indisputable physiological, psychological, and behavioral consequences, have (and have had) no sociological bearing as compared to estrogen's (or oxytocin's) effects on females? Well, that is abject, anti-empiric nonsense, and you must know that. So once again, unless I am misunderstanding you totally, you seem ready and willing to act the anti-scientific hypocrite in order to score ideological points with some unseen reader or readership while stabbing me in the back. What's the benefit? I don't get it at all.

If you want me to stop posting here, just ask. I will go with no questions asked. But calling "sexism" on me (or anybody) inappropriately diminishes real sexism. And you should be ashamed of doing that. It is also insulting to me personally to be pejoratively labelled this way, leaving aside the injustice of it. The matter of bigotry is incendiary. And I suggest you reconsider how casually you pass judgement about it in this or any public forum.

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook-- So are you saying that the fine artists take the analysis one level deeper, beyond the physical actions to the underlying intent?"

Well, in so many words, yes, except that I don't see any "analysis" at all in the work of the illustrators. The illustrators' purpose was journalistic, to depict what they saw. The fine artists reacted to the war personally, expressively, imaginatively. To make an analogy to writers, the illustrators were acting merely as reporters, while the fine artists acted as op-ed writers or novelists, using the facts of the war to express their understanding of what it revealed about humanity and human societies,(disillusioning revelations, to put it mildly).

This seems self-evident to me, and I'm surprised there is any criticism of the dadaists and their heirs vis a vis the illustrators, as they are not at all comparable in their purposes or points of view. I can admire the craft of these illustrations, but, for me, they are entirely negligible next to the works of Otto Dix or George Grosz, say.

As you say: "More ominously, modern mass communications, mass transportation and other fruits of scientific progress which once appeared to hold such promise turned out to escalate and accelerate the worst of humanity. They revealed a yawning existential void beneath a thin veneer of civilization.

As a result of the World War, nihilism seemed to spread throughout the fine art world. For example, Dada represented a negation of everything that reason had once taught us. Surrealism (a term invented by soldier Guillaume Apollinaire) represented another assault on common sense and social order.
"

You put it succinctly: the war revealed the fragility and provisional nature of the social order, and negated the self-serving fables humanity tells itself about itself. The war showed how little "common sense" or "reason" really guided the "civilized" societies of the 20th Century, and the dadaists and surrealists felt compelled to focus on the irrationality and savagery they believed was humanity's true nature. After the shock of the war, how could they continue to paint or sculpt as if there had not been this great rupture?

Donald Pittenger said...

Chris,

I think you took my statement regarding illustrators and details farther than I intended.

My idea is that they tried to pay attention to details of uniforms, weapons, battle kit, the sort of damage seen in destroyed villages and so forth. Not to create everything a photograph might record, but to make their reportage believable.

This was true for many leading illustrators doing non- war artist work. Some had collections of various props so that they could get costuming details right. Otherwise, they (or the magazine editors) would get angry letters from sharp-eyed readers detecting errors.

Saber Tooth Tiger Mike said...

There is little "common sense" or "reason" that guides uncvilized human societies, as well.
Those things are abstractions that only exist in human brains. What complicates "common sense" or "reason" is that each human brain perceives those things in different ways.


" the war revealed the fragility and provisional nature of the social order, and negated the self-serving fables humanity tells itself about itself."

They were painting existential despair.
As the Unabomber shows, existential despair does not lead to anything good.


https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/06/harvard-and-the-making-of-the-unabomber/378239/


As the Dadaists show, the existential despair of their art paved the way for other intellectuals ti deconstruct of art as [delusion, a tool of oppression towards those who are not white straight Christian men, etc.]


Deconstructionists cannot create art if they think art is yet another delusion of mankind that deserves contempt.

chris bennett said...

Hi Donald,
Thanks for the clarification on what you meant and I certainly did run with it further than you intended. Your point as I now understand it is an interesting one in that it addresses the question of how much roughage should there be in the aesthetic soup. For portrait painters this translates as the age old riddle of where between an egg and a wax-work likeness does a portrait find the meaningfulness between sitter and artist. The answer 'just enough and no more' is of course unique to the solution of each individual work. And it's interesting to see that even among the fine works David has posted the ingredients are sometimes a little adrift of the mark. 'The Flare' I feel, sets the balance (which in this case required less specificity roughage) almost perfectly.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I agree that these illustrators believed it was important to "get the details right." There are whole sections of the museum exhibition devoted to the engineering and logistics of the war, just as the Iliad described how to load and unload ships for the Trojan war. If these illustrators were going to risk their lives to witness the war up close, they were going to keep their eyes open.

At the same time, Austin Briggs (who would later be a war artist in the Vietnam war) emphasized that it was important to have an individual, personal reaction to the facts: "The value of an illustration lies in its first-hand testimony about things and people. This is the way the artist looked upon the world around him and he saw it as no other individual has ever seen it. Part of his own intense surprise, excitement, and pleasure has been captured by his brush.... The secret of becoming an artist is only partly the process of learning a technique. The more important thing is to learn to react."


Robert Cook-- Well, that's one of the truly big, worthwhile questions isn't it? It seems to me that there are too many variables in the equation to have confidence in a single solution. For example, if Otto Dix or George Grosz has a more extreme visual reaction to the horrors of World War I, that could be because they are more sensitive, or more imaginative, or have greater vision about what the War portends for the future. But it's also possible that they react that way because they have a weaker constitution, or are more timorous, or have less talent for the traditional values of art, and therefore can't see their way to capturing the war with more traditional means. I'm not sure we can make any generalizations.

You say, "The fine artists reacted to the war personally, expressively..." Does that mean the fine artists were more sincere and heartfelt than the commercial illustrators who were just going about their tradesmen duties? Well, sincerity is a fine thing, but sometimes I think any overlap between sincerity and quality in art is just a matter of coincidence. As Oscar Wilde said, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." Or, as Peter Viereck put it less condescendingly. "Art, being bartender, is never drunk. And magic that believes itself must die." (We wrestled with this subject a few years back, but I can't say anyone definitively resolved it. https://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2012/08/magic-that-believes-itself.html )

You ask, "After the shock of the war, how could they continue to paint or sculpt as if there had not been this great rupture?" I'm not immune from the belief that a work of art is like an empath-o-meter that allows us to gauge the sensitivity of the artist, and if an artist goes off the rails (a la Van Gogh) it must be because he or she is just so sensitive they just can't stand the horrors. But time and again as I've met artists, I find that sometimes the most literate, erudite, thoughtful people, the one who read deep Russian novels and weep openly at the beauty of Mozart and who devote substantial chunks of time to helping the poor and the downtrodden draw i a representational style, while the artists who are quick to claim alienation and embrace a jagged, absurdist style have been intellectually lazy and self-indulgent. Not all the time by any means, but just enough to cause me to question a direct causal connection.

David Apatoff said...


Kev Ferrara-- You say that I've called you a sexist twice, but I have no recollection of calling you a sexist even once.

Today's example-- saying in the course of a big juicy compliment that I "instinctively" question the implicit sexism of relating faith to "manhood"-- is hardly, I think, tantamount to calling you a sexist. In case you missed it, my compliment was for being "bolder and more poetic" than I dared to be. My aside-- that the word manhood might seem a little dated to those who believe that women too (perhaps even Pyle's female students?) were capable of having the faith that you say makes the difference-- was barely a sprig of parsley on the side of a steak platter. The only reason for mentioning it was that it paired nicely with an alpha-male quote from Townsend's diary that I thought you'd find interesting, and that vindicated you. If you read it, you apparently didn't find it so interesting.

Kev, it's quite possible that big undiluted compliments come your way so frequently that you can afford to throw back a 98% compliment, but if I were ever to receive such a compliment I would hardly think it "gross," and I'm sorry-- and baffled-- that you did. I might chuckle, or if I felt strongly about it for some reason, explain what I intended by the word "manhood." But unless you're on parole for some offense I don't know about, I'm not even sure why you care.

As for the first instance where I allegedly called you sexist, and I "essentially" admitted I was a hypocrite, I'm afraid that is lost somewhere in the distant recesses of my memory, probably in one of the filing cabinets labeled "My Hypocrisies." But rest assured, they are not part of a concerted effort to drive you away, I always enjoy your comments, your taste and your expertise, even when you startle me (as now).


Chris Bennett-- I agree that Post Modernism is at its worst when it asserts that meaningfulness in art is purely subjective and relative (although I have little sympathy for its opposite extreme, rigid traditional artists who insist that there can be only one legitimate standard for meaningfulness in art. ) As I've suggested before, I think that art principles were universal as long as people were confined to regions. But once people started moving around and were exposed to a wider cross section of tastes and styles and cultures, they confronted very different tastes. Then only regionalism was universal.

There are post modernists such as Bob Flanagan who not only "pull their pants down in public" but nail their penises to a wooden plank. Flanagan is not to be confused with artist Petr Pavlensky who nailed his scrotum to the ground in Red Square in front of the Kremlin wall. I'm not sure what kind of insult would injure these artists more than they already injure themselves. But at the birth of modernism, some of the founding theoreticians such as Clement Greenberg flatly said, if art is purely subjective and relative then the game is over. You just can't do that. I'm sorry that much of the next generation forgot that lesson.

Laurence John said...

Robert: "I can admire the craft of these illustrations, but, for me, they are entirely negligible next to the works of Otto Dix or George Grosz, say.”

i agree with your whole post Robert.

what i like about the Otto Dix war etchings is that they don’t shrink from the true horror of war.
these drawings and paintings, and the others in the link, present the misty, romantic take on war.

Robert Cook said...

"...if Otto Dix or George Grosz has a more extreme visual reaction to the horrors of World War I, that could be because they are more sensitive, or more imaginative, or have greater vision about what the War portends for the future. But it's also possible that they react that way because they have a weaker constitution, or are more timorous, or have less talent for the traditional values of art, and therefore can't see their way to capturing the war with more traditional means. I'm not sure we can make any generalizations."

No, we can't make generalizations. There are good and bad fine artists just as there are good and bad illustrators. But my comments have nothing to do with the talent, sensitivity or the sophistication of the fine artists as compared with the illustrators, but to do with your original question: "Why did the illustrators respond differently than the fine artists?"

It is entirely because the function of illustrators is different than that of fine artists. Not to belabor my previous answer, but the illustrators acted simply as recorders of what they saw. Their function was not to editorialize about the events they witnessed. Their pictures, however well made, do not express any personal response or imply anything about the larger world beyond the anecdotal moment expressed in any given picture. They are simply reportage.

"You say, 'The fine artists reacted to the war personally, expressively....' Does that mean the fine artists were more sincere and heartfelt than the commercial illustrators who were just going about their tradesmen duties? Well, sincerity is a fine thing, but sometimes I think any overlap between sincerity and quality in art is just a matter of coincidence. As Oscar Wilde said, 'All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.'"

I have no doubt Grosz and Dix were worldly and sophisticated, so I do not consider their pictures to be an indication of timorousness, hysteria, weaker constitutions, or the undisciplined (and thus sentimental) expression of "sincerity." (As for Wilde's quip, I'd think all good poetry also springs from genuine feeling, no?) Again, it comes down to the different functions of the art made by the illustrators as a group and the fine artists as a group. Illustrators are employed to use their skills in the service of those paying them, while fine artists use their skills to wholly personal and/or aesthetic ends. These differences cannot help but shape the work each cohort of artists will produce, entirely disregarding any inevitable disparities in the technical proficiency of the individual artists.

Perhaps the question should be, (if is is not implied in your question already), why did no fine artists produce traditional representational art in response to the war?

kev ferrara said...

It is entirely because the function of illustrators is different than that of fine artists. Not to belabor my previous answer, but the illustrators acted simply as recorders of what they saw. Their function was not to editorialize about the events they witnessed. Their pictures, however well made, do not express any personal response or imply anything about the larger world beyond the anecdotal moment expressed in any given picture. They are simply reportage.

Hardly. You are merely establishing your insensitivity to the expressive content of these works by how you write about them. Dix's editorial take on the matter is obvious because he is cartooning the emotions and his opinion like an editorial cartoonist. If you only can appreciate hysteria, he's the guy. But there's a lot more going on than horror in the experience of war.

kev ferrara said...

Illustrators are employed to use their skills in the service of those paying them, while fine artists use their skills to wholly personal and/or aesthetic ends. These differences cannot help but shape the work each cohort of artists will produce, entirely disregarding any inevitable disparities in the technical proficiency of the individual artists.

You clearly have no information on just how these artists did their war work, the degree to which they were free to art according to their own interests, just how personally they took the work, or just how, afterward, it was taken by their superior officers in terms of its propaganda value. You also clearly have no idea what philosophies were taught to these "mere illustrators" about art and the remit of the artist-illustrator by Howard Pyle, their master. And, to boot, you are desperately blinkered about the meaningless illustration/fine art distinction.

N.C. Wyeth, teaching a class long ago during illustration's golden age heyday, relayed an anecdote about an ambitious young art student which may be instructive to you. The young artist announced to N.C., "I want to make enough money as an illustrator so that I may be free to be a real artist afterward." And Wyeth replied, "Ah, but you must first be a real artist in order to be an illustrator."

Robert Cook said...

And yet, the art produced by the illustrators during war remain, despite their undeniable technical skills and whatever personal intentions they may have held for their pictures, just...illustrations. They do not compel one's--or, at least, not my--prolonged viewing or contemplation. They don't say anything...to me.

chris bennett said...

Robert,
What is your definition of 'illustration'?

Robert Cook said...

Chris,

That's as impossible to answer as the question, "What is art?"

chris bennett said...

Then how do you know if it's illustration?

Robert Cook said...

"Then how do you know if it's illustration?"

It's my personal reaction, which is what all responses to any artistic forms are. The forests of words written about art are merely attempts at expressing (or justifying) one's preference for this art and dislike of that art. For a period of about 15 years--now past--I abandoned listing to almost all music other than "free jazz," improvised music without recognizable musicality, (as many define that term). It was like abstract art for the ears. Yet, even so, there were sax players I adored and others who I didn't like, (just as there are abstract painters I like and others I don't, or illustrators I like and others I don't).Superficially, they all sounded the same: braying, honking, buzzing, squawking, blasting torrents of sound. Yet, the feel of each player was his own, and I responded to some and not to others. Why? I can't explain it and I won't try. It was just my immediate response to the sound.

chris bennett said...

Robert, what you have said only makes sense if art (music, painting, literature) is not communicated by a naturally occurring consensus language (a grammar of temporal pitch or plastic symbols or story beats).

Robert Cook said...

Chris,

This "naturally occurring consensus language" of art changes drastically over time, by both evolution and by revolution, and is different across cultures. (Music, "the universal language," does not seem so universal to western ears first hearing traditional Japanese or Chinese music. As for literature, even today, decades after it was written and published, most readers will find Joyce's FINNEGAN'S WAKE impossible to read, while some do comprehend and enjoy it. Many still consider modern art in its various permutations to be a fraud.) Thus, it seems artistic language does not necessarily have or arise from a naturally occurring consensus.

Even to the degree there is a consensus artistic language within a given culture at a particular point in time, there will be differing individual responses to the art made by different makers. One's response necessarily precedes any attempt to explain the response.

chris bennett said...

Robert,

What you say is true for the cultural references within a given work of art, but not true for its intrinsic sensual language. For example: the aesthetic meaning of Shakespeare's plays holds true even when they are translated, 'updated' or re-formulated. The sculptures of ancient Egypt are read immediately whereas the heliographs are meaningless to all but the scholars of antiquity. The rhythms that stirred the African tribes are the very same that have us rocking at Glastonbury.
This is why great art is often described as 'timeless'.