Sunday, June 04, 2006

To Every Thing There Is A Season

This article first appeared March 21, 2006 on the New York Times TimesSelect website. This material is copyrighted by The New York Times and Michael Fay.


Today I’m going to talk about the two things closest to my heart — the Marine Corps’ Combat Art Collection and my daughter.

On Friday I checked in off of post-deployment leave. For two weeks I had made the rounds of family and friends. My daughter is a freshman at a large university in Boston, and my leave happily coincided with her spring break. Being with her was the highlight of my time off. I don’t know who was more concerned this past fall and early winter, her or I. She was fearful about my being in a war zone, and I was in an absolute panic about her debut into the world of complete independence while I was half a planet away.

We’re somewhat adept at being apart. Since second grade, when her mom and I divorced, she’s had a primary residence other than mine. For most of her childhood she lived nearby, so we spent every other weekend and each Wednesday evening together. We worked on many science fair projects and book reports and enjoyed holidays and summer vacations at the Jersey shore. When she entered tenth grade, she and her mother moved to Maine. There was still Thanksgiving and the shore, but the geographical separation was hard, at least for me. Since 9/11 she’s endured four of my deployments. She wanted to spend her break with me and I was thrilled.

She didn’t want to hear gory war stories, and I didn’t quiz her about the usual messy freshmen year indiscretions — or if indeed there had been any indiscretions. We did a lot of shopping, and I was happily surprised by the eclectic mix of music on her iPod.Before she went off to college, when we took road trips I had to endure listening ad infinitum to two CD’s — “American Idiot” by Green Day and Good Charlotte’s first album. Now, her iPod is loaded with over 2,000 tunes, none by those two groups. We listened to everything from Sara Brightman singing Andrew Lloyd Webber show tunes and artsy Kate Bush-esque stuff to now-classic songs from 1960’s (The Byrds) and ‘70’s (The Romantics). She loves “Turn,Turn,Turn” and was amazed to learn that the lyrics by Pete Seeger come from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Driving down from Boston we sang in unison, “That’s what I like about you…” I’m looking forward to turning her on to the real Kate Bush and eclectic stuff like the German group Kraftwerk.

Now, some history behind the Marine Corps Art Collection. There are approximately 7500 pieces of art in the collection. The works go all the way back to the founding of our republic and include everything from the first painting showing a United States Marine to rare recruiting posters. A good portion of the collection comes from the combat art program — from combat artists, both civilian and military — fielded by the Marine Corps.

The program dates back to a WWI Marine officer, John W. Thomason, an infantry officer who sketched for his own edification and turned his drawings and combat experience into a powerful illustrated book titled “Fix Bayonets!” Between the two world wars Lt. John Capolino produced historical paintings, primarily of current and past Marine Corps battles and operations.
During WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the combat art program produced thousands of images, both sketches and finished work, for the collection. Well-known living artists that have sprung from this tradition include Harry Jackson, Howard Terpning and Henry Casselli.

Following the Vietnam War the combat art program became a function of the Historical Division and was staffed by reserve Marines. There are currently two official combat artists, myself and Maj. Alex Durr, who’s presently en-route to Iraq. We also have a new artist, Kris Battles, who is processing back into the Marines and will come the third member of our team. A fourth Marine, Sergeant Jack Carrillo, is an active duty guy, who we've requested to come work for the Historical Division from time to time. His last assignment for us sent him out with a tank battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom I in 2003.

This coming November the National Museum of the Marine Corps will be opening at Quantico, Va., and the artwork will be available for public viewing. A show of my artwork is scheduled to be exhibited at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa. in July 2007.
Why does the Marine Corps have an active fine art program? This question is often posed to me with a raised eyebrow, and is difficult to answer. The martial reputation and public perception of the Marine Corps is a powerful one, and in most of our minds heavily weighted in a direction away from anything remotely associated with art and culture. Admittedly, we Marines are often the culprits in perpetuating the popular image of the gruff anti-intellectual warrior. But in truth, the Marine Corps at its center is concerned with excellence and the values that inform and animate a free and open democracy.

In a free society art can exist for its own sake. In a military organization, which in many ways is a distinctly closed and undemocratic culture, the challenge to keep democratic values and attitudes alive is critical. Nations have succumbed to internal coups because their military culture lost sight of what they swore to defend in the first place.

One of the many ways the Marine Corps nurtures a healthy devotion to the core values of our American republic is through its combat art program. As I mentioned in my first post, Marine artists are sent into harm’s with one basic order: Do art. This official directive has no subject matter, medium, style or quantity attached. The Marines simply makes it possible for the combat artist to create from one of the most elemental visual sources — people and places in times of war. We marines who’ve been honored with the chance to be combat artists are completely free to follow our own artistic sensibilities

9 comments:

EdoRiver said...

You love your daughter. There are alot of iraqi women who love their daughters. Your daughter is fortunate enough to go to an elite school in the world's only superpower. Why? Why is it that there are equally deserving daughters of Iraqi citizens, who, if they could compete for the seat your daughter has, would win it. Yet, they can't. There is no choice for them now and for the forseeable future. Why am I mentioning this? Because Iraqi children can't have a good day.

Explain to me Captain, why the main name US media underreports the number of civilian deaths in Iraq? Simple question. Simple Answer?

AnonymousOpinion said...

Honesty, EdoRiver, Americans and American GI's do more for Iraqi children than their own country has or can.

Please see the two links below, then ask yourself exactly what has been under-reported in the "main name" US media.

Operation Iraqi Children

Iraq the Good Stuff

Ray Young said...

Sir,
Some people just don't pay attention. I feel bad for people like edoriver who can't seem to figure out that it is not your fault Saddam was such a problem on the humanitarian front.
Edoriver, I hope you find forgiveness for yourself, so you can find understanding for others. You have my best hopes and wishes.
Regarding your art, I wonder if you might talk a little about your influences, you have talked about your art and reading, and a bit about your history, but I am curious on what drove you to "Fine Art".

mdfay said...

I have no problem what so ever with comments left by our good friend edoriver. She obviously cares deeply about the state of the world. I believe the media reports civilian deaths in Iraq with great regularity, at least from the daily exposure I have to The Washington Post, CNN, BBC, The New York Times, etc. However, there IS a gross and negligent underreporting of the millions of deaths from war in Africa: Darfur, Somalia, Rwanda and the Congo to name but a few. (Also, let's not forget deaths in America from gang warfare, 3100 in just LA County alone from 1999 to 2004.) These deaths are in the millions and speak to the ineffectiveness of the UN and the consequences of a turn the other cheek diplomacy started during the Clinton administration....just ask a half a million Rwandans hacked to death while America and the Western World was fixated on ole Bill's dalliance with an intern and another Mike Fay's very public caning in Singapore for a minor vandalism charge.

Ray...you asked about my influences. First, I've always loved fine art, in particular oil paintings. Why? No answer...just do. What artists and schools do I hope inform my work? That I can answer. Here they are: Winslow Homer, Alfred Sisley, Daniel Garber, William L Latrop, Maynard Dixon, Canada's Group of Seven, Willard L Metcalf and several regional schools; New Hope School, Old Lyme School, Group of 10 and the Ashcan School. I see myself very much within the American School of Realism/Naturalism.

EdoRiver said...

I come back to take my whippin' ;-)
I apologize.
I have done some research and sent some emails to various folks asking them to explain their policy on total counts, some counts, or no counts.

I got all upset and swore we had lost when the US military at first refused to honor the "counting game" as a legacy of Vietnam, and then lo and behold began doing it, caving in, in my opinion, to PR (probably Rove?). But if you're going to do it it is a mark of jingoistic prejudice not to count all the Iraqi as equal to our own. Well the issue is not so simple, as I have now learned. there are separate policies at NYTimes, CNN and LA Times and a couple in between. The numbers are highly political. And there are reasons to believe "the other side" is using the issue the same as us. Well, I know you coulda told me that...

the artist's wife said...

Glad you did your research edoriver. Ever notice how the evening news reports a count as a "massacre" when they THINK marines have killed innocent civilians, but just "deaths" when insurgents blow up many of those same innocent civilians??? Interesting tactic by the mainstream news media.

krisbattles said...

Thanks, Edoriver, for apologizing, and having the guts to both post your original statements, and to research and then post an apology. It shows great character to do all of that.

I wish that the dialogue between left and right could be so civilized-- especially in this time of war, when partisan disunity costs lives.

We all agree that there should be fairness and equality, not only in the actions of our government, but also in the actions of the press.

Thanks again.

Semper Fidelis

David M. Smith said...

Hi Michael,

I am constantly amazed, and I don’t know why, at your ability to write as brilliantly and lucidly as you sketch. If you ever tell us that you are also an expert rifleman or a tri-athlete, I will know that God dispensed ability in an unfair manner.

Buck Pennington said...

Thanks for the informative lesson on the Marine Corps' Combat Art program, Mr. Fay. I only wish I could be in the eastern US to see your work, and that of the other Marine Combat Artists, when it goes on display. Another item on the lengthening lifetime "to do" list...

Your comments about your daughter hit a nerve. Like you, the mother of my two adult sons and I divorced when the boys were quite young. And like you, I was career military. It's very difficult to maintain contact when the kids are in Maine (or California, in my case) and you're off in Japan, or England, or wherever. But, one does the best one can. I can only tell you it gets better and better as time goes on. I'm very fortunate that my two sons are, in every sense of the word, my best friends. And while you say "I’m looking forward to turning her on to the real Kate Bush and eclectic stuff like the German group Kraftwerk" you can also look forward to her turning *you* on to great music (and other things), as well. It's a wonderful life!