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Topic section: The art of war
The art of war
Picture: 1983-5236_DHA4282_S1_embed.jpg
Guernica, 1937
Credit: NMPFT
War is often regarded as ‘the mother of invention’. However, it may equally well be considered to be ‘the mother of creativity’. From Homer’s Iliad to Goya’s The Disasters of War or Britten’s War Requiem, our seemingly innate compulsion to destroy each other has been the source of inspiration for some of the greatest works of art. This is not surprising. No activity of humankind engages our emotions as totally as war. War places individuals and societies in the most extreme of situations and, consequently, provokes the most extreme responses – both good and bad.

No activity of humankind engages our emotions as totally as war

The work of the war artist may, on occasion, be spontaneous, but it is more often considered and reflective – conforming to a timescale beyond newspaper print deadlines or television news schedules. The artist John Keane uses the analogy of the war artist having the same relationship to the war photographer that the poet does to the journalist. They may both be using the same medium, but are doing so with very different agendas and motives.
Picture: 1983-5236_DHA7072_S1_embed.jpg

Spanish Civil War propaganda poster, about 1936.
Credit: NMPFT

Over the centuries, artists have employed many different styles and approaches to give expression to their responses to war – from the classicism of Uccello, to the Romanticism of Delacroix and Beethoven or the abstract expressionism of Picasso. The greatest war art can transcend time and space, making powerful state
Picture: 1939-180_0005_S1_embed.jpg
Spanish Republican militiaman, 1937.
Credit: NMPFT
ments about the nature of the human condition that go far beyond the particular conflict being represented. The Spanish Civil War was recorded in many thousands of photographs, miles of newsreel film and millions of words of journalism.

And yet, the single image which more than anyother encapsulates the full horror of that conflict is a painting – symbolic and expressionistic rather than representative and factual – Picasso’s Guernica.

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Topic section: Reporting war – war as news and entertainment
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New technology has brought more images and reportage of war into the living room. But does more mean better? There may be pressures on the media to make this most gruesome of human activities entertaining, but such pressures blur boundaries and create conflicts.  > more

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Topic section: Selling war – the role of propaganda
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War reporting is often been condemned as propaganda. Wide media coverage has created support but also suspicion amongst the general public, as during the Iraq wars. If all reportage involves selectivity, is there a clean line between propaganda and truth?  > more
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