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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On


Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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2. Romancing the Bayonet: Blood, Glory, and the Battlefield Sublime in American Depictions of the Great War1 (Breanne Robertson)



Romancing the Bayonet: Blood, Glory, and theBattlefield Sublime in American Depictions of theGreat War1


Visual depictions of World War I combat frequently show an enemy soldier being impaled with the sharp blade of a bayonet; yet hospital statistics and casualty cards reveal only a small percentage of bayonet wounds. Technological advances in weaponry revolutionized the battlefield and redefined the soldierly experience during the Great War. Tanks, trenches, and mustard gas prevailed over conventional warfare, wreaking unprecedented destruction upon both the landscape and the human body. Moreover, the mechanized nature of modern warfighting meant that soldiers rarely saw the enemy, let alone engaged them in hand-to-hand combat. Examining the prevalence of bayonet stabbings in American paintings, engravings, and other visual renderings of the Great War, this chapter argues that hand-to-hand combat proved to be not only a useful compositional device, but also an essential means to humanize the modern battleground.

Romanticizing warfare is essential to maintain public morale, which must be inspired and reassured even after a conflict has ended. This maxim holds especially true for the Great War. Although World War I does not hold as much prominence in American national consciousness as compared to other nations, this was not true in the immediate postwar years. The war left a considerable mark upon the United States, forcing a vast community of survivors to grapple with unanswered questions about their wartime ←45 | 46→experiences and the value of soldierly sacrifice.2...

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