Friday, April 25, 2014

The Purpose of Art in War

Purpose of Art in War

Historically, paintings of warfare were not accurate down to the details.  The artist would paint the war either witnessed or spoken about in an idealized way, which allows the artist to best highlight the important events that occurred.  Due to the laborious, time-consuming nature of a painting, the artist would focus on the more important evens.  The day-to-day, general aspects of war would not have been documented except through words.  With the invention of photography, there was a new visual tool that had practical applications with wars.  Where paintings are lacking in general images, photography is able to capture the mundane events that are occurring during the war.  This documentarian nature of photography is clearly observed through the photographic works of George Barnard while he was traveling with Sherman on his historic march to the sea.  In the variety of images that Barnard offers to us, we can see the accessibility and change in purpose of artwork from paintings to photographs.  In contrast, The Battle Above the Clouds by James Walker is an excellent illustration of the important, idealized scene that paintings often capture of a war.  This painting occurred the same year, 1864, which Barnard’s photographs of Chattanooga were taken.

James Walker, The Battle above the Clouds, 1884
Painting, Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, Lookout Mtn., TN.

I chose to include this painting in my curation to represent the general form of war paintings.  This is the piece that all of the other pieces would be compared to.  James Walker’s portrayal of the battle of Lookout Mountain is very idealized.  In the painting, you have the two sides, the Union and the Confederacy, perfect in formation with their leaders in the middle slightly ahead of the regulars.  Even the cannons on the Confederacy side have been squished close to the front lines, a stylized approach showing the technology that was present.

George N. Barnard, Lu-La Lake, Lookout Mountain1864 or 1866
Albumen silver print from glass negative, MET Accession Number: 1970.525 (15)

            The Lu-La Lake photograph that Barnard took is one of the photographs that were selected to be in the book produced in the Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign.  It is one of the photographs that depict the normal scenery that would be found in the South during Sherman’s march.  In war paintings the way to show terrain was the background of the battle scene.  This is a way to more accurately draw attention to the land in the South and make the events closer to the viewer.

George N. Barnard, View on Tennessee River looking toward Chattanooga1864
Albumen silver print from glass negative, MET Accession Number: 33.65.407

This photograph is smaller than the images that were published in the Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign.  Barnard took many photographs while traveling with Sherman and not all of them were enlarged for publication.  The fact that there are smaller, extra images speak volumes of the practicality of photographs over paintings.  No one would make a series of paintings expecting to toss some; they took more time to paint.  This image helps represent the difference in accessibility between the two mediums.

George N. Barnard, Bridge Across Tennessee River at Chattanooga1864
Albumen silver print from glass negative, MET Accession Number: 33.65.406

            This photograph is one of the photographs I selected from Barnard’s photographs to express the variation of subject material.  Painted images do not have the luxury that photographs have in terms of practically capturing detailed images.  Barnard stopped to take this photograph of a bridge in Chattanooga because it was a part of his job assigned from the Army.  He captured various images to thoroughly document the Union armies progress for those not on the front lines and for a resource for future Americans.

George N. Barnard, U.S. Transport in Rapids, Tennessee River/The Suck - Tennessee River below Chattanooga, looking down stream, 1864
Albumen silver print from glass negative, MET Accession Number: 33.65.397

This photograph is similar to View on Tennessee River in the respect that it has words written in the sky.  Words were written on some of the smaller prints that were not published, this ties back in the theme being established that photographs are more accessible to capture scenes seen in the excess of photographs.  This also ties back to the theme that different general scenes are more practical to capture via photographs, further strengthening the difference of purpose that photographs have on war art than paintings do.

George N. Barnard, Headquarters of General Sherman or Thomas, Chattanooga, 1864
Albumen silver print from glass negative, MET Accession Number: 33.65.413

            The main difference I am trying to communicate is the difference that paintings and photographs can communicate.  This photograph is the final touch in showing that photographs can capture more general images than paintings typically show.  By this fifth and final photograph in the curation, I am solidifying the substantial difference in practical subject matter.  None of the five photographs were the same, and all of the images were different and more general than the painting in the front of it all.  This expresses the fact that photographs are the best visual type of documentation, and painting has a different purpose altogether.

- Phillip Newman

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