War Artists (Part 2)

Many war artists were appointed by their government to record military activities and conflict events for propaganda tool or educational purpose. But there were several exceptions. In 1814, it was the Spanish artist Francisco Goya himself proposed to Spanish government to draw the event of Napoleon’s invasion in 1808. According to the art historian Kenneth Clark (1960, pg. 124), it was Goya wanted to “perpetuate by the means of his brush the most notable and heroic actions of our glorious insurrection against the Tyrant of Europe.” Clark (1960, pg. 124) suggests that although Goya was not an eyewitness, his The Third of May 1808 (fig. 1) is indeed a “grim reflection on the whole nature of power.”


Fig. 1. Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808, 1814, 268x347cm, oil on canvas. http://www.learner.org

My focus to Goya’s The Third of May 1808 is the conflict situations that happened on two groups of people – the French soldiers and Spanish residents. The conflict scenario can be understood through the painting’s split composition – a group of armed French soldier at the right were getting ready to execute the terrified victims at the left. There were some dead bodies piling up below the Spanish residents intensifying the crucial moments. Why would Spanish resident willing to risk their life to fight the great French armies? Perhaps it is the different values hold by the two parties. Arai Tatsushi (2013, pg. 149) asserts that “conflict is a set of differences that touch the senses of who are and what we care about, in other words, identity and value.” The value Rummel, 1976, ch. 28.1) is one of the very important factors to result social conflict. In this case, the fundamental value held by resident and desire of territory expansion by French underlie their conflict of interest. Violence is regarded normally as “the result of emotions engendered by conflict and constitute reflex behavior”(Rummel, 1976, ch. 27.2), however, French utilize the violence as a channel to end social conflict.

It’s interesting to study the contrast gestures and reactions in this conflict scene. Contrast to soldiers’ fierce attitude and oppression, the residents behave shapeless and hopeless in the painting. This somehow explained social relationship described by Karl Marx where proletariat are used and enslaved under exploitation from the capitalist (Engels and Marx, 1848, p. 120). In a sense that the metaphor used by Goya can explain how the ruling class eventually by all mean to take control of other classes (Mills, 1956, p. 31).

Arai, Tatsushi (2013) ‘Art, Creativity, and Conflict Transformation: A Practitioner’s Field Note’, Juniata Voices, 13, p.147-168. Available at: http://services.juniata.edu/jcpress/voices/pdf/2013/jv_2013_147-168.pdf

Clark, Kenneth (1960) Looking into Pictures. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston

Engels, Frederick and Marx, Karl (1848) ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, Marx/Engels Selected Works. 1, 98-137. Available at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf

Mills, Wright (1956) The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press

Rummel, Rudolph (1976) Understanding Conflict and War: The Conflict Helix, Volume 2, The Conflict Helix. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc


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