The Impact of War – understanding the experience of Wilfred Owen

Art of WarEnjoying a quiet Anzac Day afternoon, watching the ABC, I managed to view this enthralling documentary. Art is another way of encouraging students to connect with the experiences of war, particularly when introducing key concepts in the study of Wilfred Owen for HSC Standard English Module B: Close Study of Text.   Art of War back coverThe synopsis on the back cover of the DVD case does not do the program justice. I was struck by the number of young men, already artists, who volunteered for war and became emotionally devastated. Gassed Gassed, by John Singer Sargent terrifyingly depicts the number of wounded soldiers on the battlefield, whilst Percy Wyndham Lewis’ A Battery Shelled (1919) shows officers as distant observers from the mechanised soldiers and weapons involved in the action. A Battery Shelled Perhaps most compelling is the effect on a young soldier from the German army: students would readily understand the very different representations in the following paintings titled Self Portrait – the first was painted in 1912; the second was completed in 1914 after Dix volunteered and saw action in an artillery unit. Otto Dix self portrait1912 Otto Dix self portrait 1914Note the difference in hairstyles, colours used, and the energy of the brush strokes. In 1912, Otto calmly holds a pink carnation, while in 1914 he appears haunted by a devilish creature.

Students will readily understand the clash of reality and a romanticised image held by those who had not participated in battle by discussing CRW Nevinson’s work Paths of Glory. This painting was banned from an exhibition in 1918, but Nevinson refused to remove the artwork. Instead, he covered the picture with brown paper and wrote ‘censored’ across the canvas. Paths of Glory The Art of War, directed by Richard Pawelko and narrated by John Morgan, is slow viewing for a teen audience who may not appreciate the different avant-garde movements discussed. Consider choosing specific images to highlight key concepts for individual poems. There are many more images and information on this excellent site: Weimar: Art of the First World War

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