War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

good art bad art

a telephone call today about one of my projects. is it going to be negative? is it going to be all blood and guts and suffering? people are very interested but some are also concerned (I paraphrase badly here)

no, I reply. we already know about all of that. what I’m hoping to do is show some redemption. some light at the end of suffering. what I’m trying to do is witness a generation

then we talked about the famous Gertrude Kearns painting from Somalia. and how this stirred up big feelings (and big feelings aren’t bad in my opinion).

I remember bringing a catalogue from A Brush With War to the rifle company outside the wire. they get tired of their reading materials and I thought this would make for interesting browsing as well as let the boys know what the war artist program is about.

so I was sitting with the OC eating fresh mutton (slaughtered that morning) on freshly baked naan when a senior NCO came along and picked up the catalogue. he browsed through it and admired the paintings until he came across the Kearn’s portrait of the Somalian being tortured by a Canadian soldier.

this shouldn’t be here he said, this is a bad, bad picture

art isn’t only about pretty or the glorious I said to him, and only a courageous country would display something so shameful in the open. of course it belongs. if artists only painted or wrote to please, that wouldn’t be right. no, it’s a brave country to acknowledge its mistakes

he looked at me and nodded his head. I guess you’re right. but it’s still not good

I recall reading Theo Fleury’s autobiography in which he writes, you’re only as sick as your secrets.

but the truth is, I can’t bear to look at the painting because it’s so graphic. however, I was in awe of the Canadian War Museum for placing it central to the Brush with War exhibit, because I believe that the Somalian inquiry was a major watershed for the CF. at least that’s what everyone who lived through it says.

and I respect and admire Gertrude and tell her so.

yet Gertrude’s experience is different than mine. our ways of seeing the world. and this is as it should be.

but my work in progress (all details to be announced) is about trying to shine that light, into one of the darkest corners, hoping, desiring, wishing, to lend enough light for all of us who have endured this experience, to find our way out.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled good art bad art. It was posted here on June 14, 2011.

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