War is an important moment in the life of a society. It is a "total social fact" which affects all the constitutive aspects of a society, whether in the social, political, economic fields, etc. The artists did not ignore the war far from it. From Antiquity and even beyond, artists have represented war. Some like Apelles were present on the battlefield to better represent them. Others were very critical. This story is the subject of the essay Claire Maingon, Lecturer at the University of Rouen, titled Art in the face of war published by Presses Universitaires de Vincennes (PUV).
Artists and war
The author in this essay wishes to shed light on the question of the numerous and complex relationships between artists and war. Four axes structure the book and provide the theme of the different chapters. “[It] aims to analyze the four main responses of art and artists to war, through time: the representation of war as a historical event, the use of the arts in war for ends. of propaganda or protection, art as a striking expression of the refusal or denunciation of war, and, finally, the creation of an artistic memory of war for periods of peace. This choice has the advantage of tackling subjects that are often little treated, such as the question of artists and the camouflage of war in the second part.
The author argues his point with a vast panorama of works that will not be developed over several pages. The nominal index at the end of the book is a good illustration of the abundance of references contained in the book. This gives a catalog effect which is the strength and weakness of the book: it is difficult for the reader to imagine the works mentioned without having external help because no reproduction is present but by offering a large panel, the author offers the possibility of discovering new, more confidential works.
The "economical" format of the book has a lot to do with this choice. One criticism that could be formulated is that of not discussing at length the centuries prior to the contemporary era. This is largely due to the author's fields of research in the arts of the first half of the twentieth century, two chapters of which reflect ("Images of violence? The example of 14-18" and "Modern art and war: futurism (1909-1942) ”). One of the major interests of the book is to offer as an example recent works largely unknown to the general public which can tackle themes that are still topical such as the denunciation of Chinese communist militarism (p. 112-113), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with artists like Wafa Hourani (p. 103) and Kai Wiedenhöfer (p. 135) or Syrian with the work of Akram Al Halabi or Mohammad Omran (p. 103).
In the end, this small test is rather successful with its strengths and weaknesses. It makes it possible to make a synthesis on a subject not so broached as that. However, if the twentieth century is treated very well, we regret the relative weakness of the examples or reflections for previous periods. An original, short, very accessible book which allows the reader to have a new look at art and war.
Art in the face of war, by Claire Maingon. Collection libre courts, September 2015.