Monet’s Tanks or the Beauty of Warfare
The above photo is of the NATO Saber Strike exercises in Poland that took place from May to June 2017. Taking away the tanks it could appear to be a painting by Claude Monet; however, the tanks are there, though camouflaged with foliage in a field of flowers. The blue flowers and green grass and undergrowth in the foreground are represented in soft hues of beige, green and blue with hints of yellow. The delicate blue flowers and plant life have an artistic splendour to them, beautifying the act of war. The composition is simple but elaborate in its exquisite detail of the flowers in the foreground. In the middleground we can see the two imposing armoured tanks in dark grey with linear and circular contours, embellished with bright greenery, giving them a new dimension in sharp contrast to the ethereal and fragile tapestry of flowers in the field they are trampling. A small cloud of grey smoke coming from the second armoured tank is lost in the background of the light grey sky. The dreamy impressionist-like field of flowers is contrasted by the presence of the tanks, giving them a new dimension. The clear limits between land and sky divide the hierarchies of the composition, horizontally organized by the two armoured tanks and the field. There is a photographic symphony that is unforgettable, described in different shades of light and suggests achievement and domination over nature. Photos like this should be widely considered a masterpiece, though perhaps the tanks as a paragon are not well accepted in the middleground due to the psychological intensity of the moment, but a necessary element in an impressionist war photo. Perhaps this kind of photo is not well received yet by the general public, who may have yet to get used to this style.
The second image is from the series of weeping willow trees Claude Monet painted in homage to the fallen French soldiers in the First World War. In the foreground we can see the soft, grassy base surrounding the weeping willow tree and its trunk. In the middleground we have all the leaves of the willow in their green and yellow shades. At the top of the painting the branches are extended like arms, as though calling or invoking someone.
In the photo of the armoured tanks we know that the tanks are in fact there to build roads, bridges, rail networks and other civilian infrastructure to be ready for war. Shouldn’t we instead be building for positive reasons, to increase communications, to build new houses, schools, museums and bridges to reach these places, as bridges of communication that open dialogue? The useless beauty of the flowers is contrasted with the merciless killing power of the tanks, of NATO behind the tanks. Isn’t a painting (or photo in this case) about a dialogue without words that can communicate an expression, political belief, emotion, perception, or conviction in total silence?
My question here is, if 1.57 trillion dollars were spent globally on weapons in 2016, while this amount is predicted to grow to $1.67 trillion in 2018 (Jane’s Defence Budget’s report) and more on civil infrastructure to prepare for wars, what if this money was spent on the arts? What if this money was spent on beautifying our world and not on destroying it and not on killing? Monet and his family moved to London to escape the Franco-Prussian war. Where shall we all escape to if war breaks out in Europe, Russia, America or Asia? Where are the others in war-torn areas of the world escaping to? Does it make any sense? We don’t want a revival of Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone” for Europe, or for that matter for anywhere else in the world.
Many thanks to the photographer, Ints Kalnins, for his very beautiful and poetic photo, a reminder that war takes place even in beautiful fields and cities.
Price range of armoured tanks from $8.58 million
Volume 32 no 6 July/August 2018 pp 26 -27
22 thoughts on “Monet’s Tanks or the Beauty of Warfare”
You write, “if this money was spent on beautifying our world and not on destroying it and not on killing?” It is not possible to spend money on beautifying our world, as war is perhaps the biggest money making business ever, no importance given to the killing that takes place – that is a minor aspect of the whole issue!
I remember when traveling to Spain and seeing how much they use sculptures everywhere; I found it truly impressive. There were sculptures on the highways, in the main city squares, in peoples’ gardens, and just about everywhere. I felt that the Spaniards felt the need to have art in every angle of their lives, which is how life should be. More art and less war, or rather no more war.
Another painting of war, this time in Yemen:
The painting gets even more dramatic as we discover from the news that the company where Theresa May’s husband has a large number of shares is the one that made the bomb that attacked the Yemeni school bus where 40 children were recently killed and 56 children were injured.
I am not a mathematician, so please forgive any inaccuracies that I may have made in my calculations; in any case they are astounding.
If there are 7.6 billion people in the world today, and $1.67 trillion is being spent on weapons in 2018, it means that we can spend about $220 billion on each and every person on our planet for killing them.
Shouldn’t this kind of information be forefront in our news, at the top of every newspaper, magazine or webpage? Shouldn’t people know these numbers, without considering the amount of money spent on weapons in 2017, 2016, etc.? It should be embedded in our minds as if there were a $220 billion bounty on all our heads. It is utter madness. Where does all the money to fund this come from?
Not just the arts could be transformed with a small portion of the money spent on arms in one year, but all the rest of the many issues facing us today. Thank you New Art Examiner for publishing this article on Monet’s Tanks, and thank you Ints Kalnins and Claude Monet for your work.
Really good article, really insightful and well written. I loved it. As an aside, it’s $2,200.00 per person, still a lot. I do think NATO is important.
Thank you Meg for your comment and also correction on my math; I got a bit lost on the zeros. Even $1 spent per person would be far too much and should never be spent on the extermination or possible extermination of “unwanted” people. Art not arms.
Let me quote two very appropriate writings from William Morris (1834-1896), worthy of reflection:
“History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.”
“Do not be deceived by the outside appearance of order in our plutocratic society. It fares with it as it does with the older norms of war, that there is an outside look of quite wonderful order about it; how neat and comforting the steady march of the regiment; how quiet and respectable the sergeants look; how clean the polished cannon … the looks of adjutant and sergeant as innocent-looking as may be, nay, the very orders for destruction and plunder are given with a quiet precision which seems the very token of a good conscience; this is the mask that lies before the ruined cornfield and the burning cottage, and mangled bodies, the untimely death of worthy men, the desolated home.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines apathy as a “lack of feeling or emotion: impassiveness” or a “lack of interest or concern: indifference”. We are a world of apathetic, self-centered individuals where compassion and empathy have no place. People are no longer sensitive or responsive to reports of airstrikes on hospitals, schools, buses, houses, villages or marketplaces in “other” countries on children, women, elderly and men (if they too can be considered part of the category of collateral damage). We just quickly glance at the gruesome headlines and move on to more interesting news, news that is more captivating and full of life. Rather, we no longer read the news, as it all has to be in video format; text is becoming too sophisticated for us because watching is so much easier and also so much more entertaining. The scenes of killing can become slightly more interesting when they’re presented in a video, but taking action on what we see in those videos? Apathy reigns.
May I cite David Shields’ book, War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflicts, which is very appropriate to this context.
“Bestselling author David Shields analyzed over a decade’s worth of front-page war photographs from The New York Times and came to a shocking conclusion: the photo-editing process of the “paper of record,” by way of pretty, heroic, and lavishly aesthetic image selection, pulls the wool over the eyes of its readers; Shields forces us to face not only the the media’s complicity in dubious and catastrophic military campaigns but our own as well. This powerful media mouthpiece, the mighty Times, far from being a check on governmental power, is in reality a massive amplifier for its dark forces by virtue of the way it aestheticizes warfare. Anyone baffled by the willful American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t help but see in this book how eagerly and invariably the Times led the way in making the case for these wars through the manipulation of its visuals. Shields forces the reader to weigh the consequences of our own passivity in the face of these images’ opiatic numbing. The photographs gathered in War Is Beautiful, often beautiful and always artful, are filters of reality rather than the documentary journalism they purport to be.”
We can also see war as a form of art.
Marinetti who founded Futurism wrote, “War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages.”
And from point number 9 of the Manifesto of Futurism:
“We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.”
Why “scorn for woman”?
A group of 18 artists very surprisingly turned “tunnels of death in Eastern Ghouta into creative works of art”. Through their sculptures they can hopefully exorcise some of the atrocities that have taken place there. You can kill and maim people, but you can’t kill their passion for art.
Please tell me where the beauty of warfare is; I fail to see the connection.
There is no connection, and warfare has no place in the art world. How can there be beauty in the killing of people and the destruction of their infrastructure?
In cutting down trees and clearing areas for army bases.
More news from Poland, as the military can do as it pleases regardless of an area being protected by the EU or not. The prime focus today is not on beauty and nature, nor on art to do its part.
“The US military wants to cut down a large swathe of green woodland in Poland, designated by the EU as a conservation site for rare and endangered species. The cleared area will be used to expand an existing air force base.
The US Army Corps of Engineers procurement documents, obtained by RT Russian, detail the Pentagon’s plans to cut down 38.18 hectares of protected forest in order to build a prepositioned stock and maintenance complex (APS) around the Powidz Air Base in central Poland. All the tree-cutting must be completed by the end of February next year.
War spoils are one of the perks of warfare, as the artefacts stolen in times of war contribute to the collections of greedy European and American museums; looting is part of the beauty of warfare.
The British Museum is trying to clean up it’s image with their tweet, “Not everything was looted”, but it appears to be backfiring. https://twitter.com/guardian/status/1050731186182590464
They are even opening an area inside the museum called “Unlooted Stuff”. If there is an area with unlooted stuff, does that imply that all the rest of the “stuff” is looted?
The Louvre is not without its loot.
“The tile panel belonging to the Sultan Selim II tomb in the garden of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum is one of the most valuable pieces exhibited in the Louvre Museum and the Islamic artifacts section. The Culture and Tourism Ministry continues its initiatives for the return of this panel, which was taken abroad illegally in the past.”
Is this the beauty of warfare you write about that artists paint and poets write on?
May I present Haifa Subay, in the hope that she is still alive. Her work is on display on many murals in Sanaa.
Coming from the beauty of warfare, this is an extraordinary photo:
Again in a beautiful field, this time for Merkel and Macron who want to create an EU army: