Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What We Do

I was reading excerpts from the PBS program, They Drew Fire, and was once again refreshed in my combat artist's spirit, in drinking from the source well of Marine Combat Art-- the writings of Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, Director of Public Relations for the United States Marine Corps in World War II.

He was the creator of the first iteration of the Marine Corps Combat Art Program, which was part of his "Denig's Demons"--  photographers, journalists and artists recruited and trained as Marines, and put into the action to record reality on the front lines.

In describing the purpose for his new Program, he stated:

"Art at any time is food for spiritual growth. The centuries have proved it so. At peace or at war, man cannot live by bread alone. A special case for art in time of war may be made, for it is then that man's spiritual, as well as physical, being is most severely in need of sustaining strength. Whatever provides the people good cheer, material for reflection and inspiration is an essential contribution to a nation's total effort. This is a people's war. The people want to know, need to know, and have a right to know, what is going on."
Gen. Denig also addressed the value of an artist vs a photographer (perhaps even then the photograph was on the ascendancy, and people may have been wondering why the artist was necessary):
" The combat photographer must snap his picture of an action as it happens. If he is busy taking part in the action, as he so often is; if it happens so fast he is unable to adjust his camera in time; if conditions are not good, the action is never recorded- and the picture is never made. The artist, on the other hand, with his photographic eye, can take part in the action, and then paint any moment of it from memory at his leisure.  The painter can provide his own lighting; he can give a picture any degree of intensity he desires. He can reconstruct a scene from whatever angle he considers most dramatic, centering attention wherever he wishes."
These artists, photographers and journalists called "Denig's Demons" provided vital information to the public during the war. The American people also gained a large collection of rich and dramatic imagery which gave them a no-frills picture of a difficult and necessary war-- and perhaps the art gave the nation the "good cheer, material for reflection and inspiration" it was so desperately needing.

We combat artists today hope to walk in their boots.

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