This is War! (Part 1)

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Living in Portland, Oregon for over two years has opened a lot of doors for me, especially with access to both old and emerging art and literature. Through volunteering with a local nonprofit, Literary Arts, I’ve had some amazing chances to meet and listen to visiting artists such as Ann Patchett, Michael Chabon, and Julia Alvarez. Literary Arts has also opened new doors into the types of novels I have read.

In the past, through the Literary Arts' Delve Readers Seminars, I have met some great people in the community and read some large works of literature I may not have had the dedication to read on my own, at least not quickly, including Charles Dickens's final novel Our Mutual Friend, and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I was even fortunate enough to be a scribe for the Dostoevsky Delve and wrote a weekly blog post for Literary Arts.

In the fall of 2014 I was attending my third Delve seminar, which was a unique arrangement since it took place at the Portland Art Museum titled This is War! The Delve was held in conjunction with the centennial World War I exhibition and sought to synthesize where art meets literature. Along with reading Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, we also had a personalized tour of the exhibit by gifted museum curator Mary Weaver Chapin.

Chapin deftly guided us through a selection of art and art propaganda pertaining to World War I. The exhibit contained a multitude of chillingly bright war posters with varying levels of intensity from troop encouragement to citizen demoralization. It was moving to see these works of art in person displayed in near perfect condition. The exhibition showcased fear in bright colors and dark figures, and because of the clear and present emotions displayed, it allowed us in the seminar to ask ourselves how the art of the time influenced literature as well.

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What struck me more than most of the art on display were the wood etchings by Kathe Kollwitz. Created after the war, Kollwitz struggled for years to put into place the horrors she experienced, as well as the loss of her son in combat. Kollwitz saw the world heading towards another collision and realized the perfect medium and fury in which to translate her experiences beyond sculpting and painting. She chose the violence and physicality of crafting these wood works of art to perfectly encapsulate the brutality and the degradations of war.

Other great artists on display included Robert Bonfils and his powerful use of sparse colors (seen at the top). Felix Vallotton and his cartoon like approach to the barbarism of barbed wire warfare.

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Otto Dix concentrated sketches amass to form dark graves of varying decomposition, that drive home the long drawn out effects of war.

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Check back next week for part 2 where I will discuss the novels All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms and how they pertain to the exhibit This is War!

Stay Backwords,

Phillip Trey

#backwords #backwordsblog #art

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