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Articulating the unspeakable: Art-making during wartime

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought…

– Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”

A MAN WITH a scythe cuts into a sea of wheat. His back to us, he is everyman, any man, and war is not apparent. Not until you read the title, “Veteran in the New Field.” Looking at the painting, its wheat stalks hemming him in, I get a profound sense of loss. These are no amber waves of grain, this not the stuff of anthems and glory, not hope or national pride. Instead it’s returning from war and being lost, a theme still trenchant today.

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