Sunday, July 26, 2015

David McCarthy's "American Artists Against War 1935—2010"

David McCarthy is Professor of Art History at Rhodes College and author of The Nude in American Painting, 1950–1980; Pop Art; and H.C. Westermann at War: Art and Manhood in Cold War America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, American Artists against War, 1935-2010, and reported the following:
Quoting extant imagery allowed Rosenquist to establish connections between military technology and consumer goods, and between the taxation of U.S. citizens and the ends to which those taxes were put. Literally, he visualized these connections in a space that forced viewers to see that their daily lives were not so far removed from the military-industrial complex. Hence the painting served as an “antidote” (in the artist’s words), one designed to “shift gears” so that the art might be an effective means of challenging the status quo. With subsequent exhibitions throughout the rest of the decade and continuing coverage in the press, F-111 became part of the antiwar movement, not as an event contingent upon community coordination as the artist might have hoped, but as potent image nonetheless.
The above quotation is from page ninety-nine of my book. Although lifted from a longer section on James Rosenquist’s canonical painting F-111, the paragraph is indicative of the chapter on Vietnam and, indeed, of the entire book. How so? Certainly in the use of highly charged content. Anti-war artists often worked with recognizable and topical subject matter. Standing apart from government propaganda and mainstream media reporting and editorializing, these artists reconfigured information to help citizens see armed conflict from strikingly adversarial perspectives. Their practice was based on the knowledge that they were uniquely positioned to challenge the status quo because of their skill in presenting ideas visually. How else? The paragraph draws attention to the exhibition of the painting, meaning that we need to remember that the encounter with works of art occurs in actual places. Our experience of the art is both physical and emotional. Sometimes through empathy we are drawn to feel a sense of community with the victims or war. At other times, as with F-111, we are repulsed by the garish color, congested space, and insistence that our consumer pleasures might be linked with the violent subordination of others. This is but one instance of artists using imagination to protest against the use of violence to further the ambitions of the nation state, and reminds us of the long and ongoing tradition of modern artists bearing witness to the trauma of our age.
Learn more about American Artists against War, 1935-2010 at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue