Where’s Johnny Got his Gun? Where’s All Quiet on the Western Front? Where’s Catch 22? A Farewell to Arms and For whom the Bell Tolls? From Here to Eternity? The Naked and the Dead?
Where’s Alice’s Restaurant? Where’s All Along The Watchtower? Where’s Give Peace a Chance? Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy? We Gotta Get Out of This Place? Born in the USA? Rocking the Casbah?
Where’s The Star Spangled Banner?
It’s been three years since 9/11 and yet, (except for a couple of forgettable efforts from Springsteen and Bowie, a few made-for-TV movies, and Michael Moore’s upcoming Fahrenheit 911) artists don’t seem to have responded in a significant way that has caught on with the public. Where’s the first great anti-war hip hop song? The Whitney Biennial was great but if any of it referenced 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, I missed it.
Granted, it may have taken a few years for great art to emerge from other wars, and so far no one’s been drafted for this one, but we live in accelerated times and all feel threatened and yet there doesn’t seem to even be a movement afoot. These events are changing our lives and our world, and people all over the planet seem to have strong feelings about it and yet, the music, film, fiction and art world seem way, way too peaceful.
For anyone who has ever felt that they had no time to draw, were too stressed out to draw, had nothing interesting to draw, I offer a few pages from “G.I. Sketch Book”, published by Penguin Books on July 1944:
From the FOREWORD
WHEN YOU get upward of ten million men together from every walk of life, you find a large number of them who think pictorially and who burn with a desire to record their thoughts. What cries out more for the permanent record of the artist than enormous masses of men in combat, in preparation for combat, at rest, or at play! The skill of an artist is not always the same; there are influences that heighten or lessen the ability to transmute mood and scene. If he is greatly moved by what he sees, it is very probable that he will transcend his ordinary technical limitations and produce something that will come close to satisfying even him.
The pictures in this book have all been made by American G.I.’s and, as you thumb your way through the pages of sketches and finished pictures, bear in mind under what conditions some of these chef d’oeuvres were produced. What foxhole did a marine use as his studio? What bombed and burning deck inspired the sailor-painter to portray magnificent light and atmospheric effects? Many scenes were sketched on wrapping paper, some painted on ship’s canvas with ship’s paint. One lad in the Air Forces sends his wife a daily letter from China, from India or from Burma, constantly illustrating a point with a pen and ink sketch. This is what he writes about his G.I. life and art: “It’s a nice feeling that though I am so far away, I am still contributing to the cultural life of our community. Also to know that I am still doing art work in the combat zone, and under real primitive and warring conditions, proves conclusively that the desire for the fine and aesthetic is not a shallow, meek appendage to the lives of humans, but a forceful necessity to life.”