Pro-war art vs. antiwar artists

On February 7th anti-war artists held a protest outside of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, to voice disapproval over the museum’s exhibit, Fire and Ice: Combat Art from Afghanistan and Iraq by Staff Sergeant Michael Fay USMCR. The exhibit was made possible by the support of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and the protest took place as the show was previewed for museum members. The anti-war artists objected to the show on the grounds that it implicitly gave support to the occupation of Iraq.

The artworks on display show the US military engaged in various duties -while avoiding depicting soldiers in combat or illustrating the devastation war brings. One of the protestors, Suzanne Hedrick (73), said “We are fighting an illegal and immoral war. Without another viewpoint, without the faces of the victims and the ruining of the country, I’m deeply concerned.”

Museum director Christopher Crossman compared Fay’s work to that of Winslow Homer when he covered the Civil War for Harper’s Weekly. But the war to restore the Union and end slavery is a far cry from what many see in Iraq – a war of choice, not a war of necessity. Director Crossman said that Fay’s artworks put “a human face to war” – but what tenderness is there in war? What soul is not malformed and made ugly by war?

General Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” During WWII the US government formed the War Department Art Advisory committee that eventually sent forty two soldier artists into combat zones to sketch the fight against fascism and Japanese imperialism. The artists were free to draw and paint all subjects -from the dead and dying to bombed homes and prisoners of war. That all seems far a field from what is now on display at the Farnsworth. Fire and Ice runs until March 27th, 2005.

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