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Art have key role to play in peacemaking -01

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Introduction
The power of the arts to promote peace lies in their emotive nature; the arts can help people
feel the pathos and waste of war and help to instill a desire and commitment to end war and
work for peace. All of the arts have a contribution to make - music, drama, literature, poetry,
dance, film – and the visual arts, such as paintings, prints, posters, sculptures, and photography.
This paper will focus on the visual arts.
This paper also explores the intersection between ‘peace history’ and ‘art history’ – in doing
research for this paper; I have seen some of the history of war resistance through the eyes of
artists. My involvement in peace museums internationally has also brought me into contact with
anti-war and peace art and at the end of the paper I will give some examples of peace
museums around the world and what they contain.


Anti-war and peace art
Anti-war imagery shows the destruction, horror and trauma of war while what I am calling ‘peace
art’ is imagery and symbols of peace in a positive sense. In Peace Studies we talk about
‘negative peace’ as that which is defined by the absence of war, and ‘positive peace’ as all the
conditions that contribute to a sustainable peace. In parallel to that we have anti-war art
(negative imagery) and ‘peace art’ (positive imagery).
Before examining some of this imagery it is appropriate to first discuss the function of art in
society. Herbert Read in his essay ‘Art & society’ (Read: 1969) said: “society as a viable organic
entity, is somehow dependent on art as a binding, fusing, energizing force.” He also notes that it
is largely through surviving works of art that we have knowledge of early civilizations such as
Sumer and Egypt. What does art today say about our society?
Artists emerge from their historical and political contexts. Some artists respond to the events of
their time through art and by doing so can influence or help shape their societies by the imagery
(and other arts) they produce. In other words, art reflects society but can also help to change it.
Anti-war and peace art can express: testimony or witness to war’s destruction; resistance to war;
and/or transformation, inspiration and vision.


Art as testimony and witness
Historically art has been dominated by society’s rulers, whose patronage supported artistic
creation which glorified war. We are all familiar with ‘heroic’ battle scenes with kings on
horseback and patriotic images of noble soldiers. One of the first artists to break with that
tradition was Jacques Callot, who produced two series of etchings on ‘The Miseries of War’
depicting the horrors of the Thirty Years War which devastated central Europe in the 17th
century.
Two hundred years later Francisco Goya responded to the Napoleonic Wars in Spain (1808-
1814) with his series of etchings, The Disasters of War showing the maiming and killing of
Spanish peasants who had risen up against the occupying French army. Goya was influenced
in his work by Callot, and in turn Goya’s work influenced many later artists, including Picasso.
Considered anti-clerical and unpatriotic in their time, Goya’s anti-war prints were banned for
thirty years after his death (Jones: 2003). Likewise from that war, we have Goya’s iconic
painting which depicts the execution of Spanish insurgents by firing squad. This painting was
2 ground-breaking because it showed the brutality of war from the victims’ point of view. (Von
Simson: 1963) The central figure has his arms flung out in a Christ-like pose.
For another one hundred years, until the First World War, there was little or no anti-war art
(Moyneux: 2006). The First World War generated a plethora of anti-war reactions in the visual
arts as well as other arts such as literature and poetry. Artists, writers and poets conscripted into
the war powerfully and graphically captured the senseless slaughter which took the lives of
millions.


Art as a premonition of War
Prior to First World War, some artists sensed the chaos and destruction that was about to be
unleashed on the world, and expressed it in their art. Some artists were ‘sensors’ of what was to
come, for example, the Expressionist artists Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and August Macke.
Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian émigré living in Munich before the war, was a founder of the
German Expressionist Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) circle of artists along with Franz Marc. He
produced a series of paintings, Compositions and Improvisations, which were apocalyptic in
nature, with visions of inundation and conflict. He believed that a spiritual rebirth was at hand
but he was also increasingly drawn into the tumult of the times. (Cork: 1994)
The German artist, Franz Marc was conscripted and killed in the war - at Verdun in 1915. Like
Kandinsky, Marc’s paintings were a prophecy of what was to come. Sent a postcard
reproduction of his painting The Fate of the Animals in 1915 he said “It is like a premonition of
this war, at once horrible and stirring. I can hardly believe that I painted it.”. August Macke,
another German artist of this school, was also killed early in the war. The painting, Farewell,
portrays the many departures to the battlefront taking place throughout Germany in August
1914. It was also a reminder of how many lives were lost, including of the lives of artists, writers,
and poets. (Cork: 1994)


Censorship of Anti-War Art
During the war, over 90 artists were commissioned by the British government to record it.
Rather than allowing their art to be used as propaganda, many of these artists resisted and
produced antiwar imagery. John Singer Sargent was asked to produce a painting depicting
cooperation between British and American troops, but instead painted Gassed showing a group
of soldiers suffering from the effects of poison gas. (Harries: 1983)
Censorship of anti-war art was rife. The war artist Paul Nash painted desolate landscapes
destroyed by war and said: “I am not allowed to put dead men into my pictures because
apparently they don’t exist” He wrote in a letter to his wife in November 1917: I am no longer an
artist. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who
want the war to go on forever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter
truth and may it burn their lousy souls. (Cork: 1994).
Christopher Nevinson’s ironically entitled painting ‘Paths of Glory’ (1917) showing a dead
soldier was considered unacceptable at the time and was not exhibited until after the armistice.
Toward the end of the war, William Orpen was asked to paint portraits of leaders such as Field
Marshall Douglas Haig, but he refused and instead painted a flag draped coffin with skeletal
soldiers beside it. The image was later altered, and the skeletal figures were painted out. (Cork:
1994).


German Anti-War Art of WWI
A number of German artists also produced very powerful anti-war imagery during and after the
war. Kathe Kollwitz, whose own son was killed in the early days of the First World War,
produced prints of anti-war imagery that are still familiar to us today and have been adopted by
3 peace movement groups. Some of her works depict mothers sheltering and protecting their
children, which she, sadly, was unable to do for her son. She became passionately opposed to
war, as expressed in her graphic image of a youth with upraised fist crying ‘no to war.’ In the
German cemetery in Belgium where her son is buried there is a very moving memorial sculpture
by Kathe Kollwitz that stands beside the graves of German soldiers; it is of two grieving parents,
herself and her husband. (Prelinger: 1992).
The German artist Otto Dix survived active duty in both world wars. He was a machine gunner
in the First World War and much of his art depicted in a visceral way the pain, terror and
revulsion he experienced. His painting ‘Flanders’ was painted in 1934 as a reminder of the
horrors of war. It was only exhibited once before being confiscated by the Nazis, as was much
of his earlier anti-war art. In 1939 he was conscripted into the German army, captured and held
prisoner of war until 1946. He returned to his home city of Dresden to find it obliterated by Allied
bombing. (Cork: 1994).
(wait for part 02 ..... )