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February 09, 2005

Bad behaviour by Artists

The Bangor Daily News has a report about some rude artists who ganged up on Marine Sgt. Michael Fay at an opening of a museum exhibition featuring his paintings because they don't think his art should be shown "out of context".

ROCKLAND - Free speech clashed with free expression on a downtown street corner Saturday as artists opposed to war protested the showing of combat paintings of Marine Sgt. Michael Fay at the Farnsworth Art Museum. Sgt. Fay stood ramrod straight when confronted by the small group of protesters upset with the Farnsworth for exhibiting his paintings of combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The afternoon sun reflected off the combat ribbons pinned to his green uniform, and the red chevrons on his sleeves glinted in the finish of his spit-shined shoes as Fay listened to his challengers.

Fay told the group he recognized their right to voice their opinion but reminded them that he had a right to express himself as well.

"I think it's great that we can have a passionate debate," Fay told the protesters. "I am not a spokesman for the war. But am I proud to be a Marine? You bet."
About a half-dozen artists carried signs and stood vigil outside the Farnsworth as the show "Fire and Ice: Marine Corps Combat Art from Afghanistan and Iraq" was previewed for museum members. Fay's paintings show soldiers carrying out their daily duties while serving on hostile ground.

Fay's paintings and drawings do not depict war, but there is no doubt as to their nature. They are set in a combat zone and include images of tanks, bombs, planes, ambulances and rifle-carrying soldiers.

The protesters objected to the show's content and what they claimed was the museum's "implicit support of war." They said a more balanced show would include images of civilian deaths and mass destruction. To represent one facet of military life in combat zones without placing it in the context of the true costs of war displayed a lack of sensitivity, they said.

"We are fighting an illegal and immoral war," Suzanne Hedrick, 73, of Nobleboro told Fay. "Without another viewpoint, without the faces of the victims and the ruining of the country, I'm deeply concerned."

In the catalog to the show, museum director Christopher Crossman compared the subject matter of Fay's work with that of Winslow Homer when he worked as an artist-journalist covering the Civil War for Harper's Weekly. Although Homer observed numerous battles, it was his paintings of everyday military encampments that were of great interest, said Crossman.

"Fay puts a human face to war," noted Crossman. "For the most part, his work consists of portraits of fellow Marines whose feelings and individuality can be read in their eyes and even in the wear and tear of their uniforms."

Crossman noted that Fay "serendipitously" stopped by the museum a few months ago to introduce his work. He said he later discovered that few of his colleagues in the museum world were aware that combat artists were still active.

The show was organized by Farnsworth curator of exhibitions Helen Ashton Fisher and Charles G. Grow, curator of the Marine Corps Combat Art Collection. It was made possible by the support of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

The Marine Corps Combat Art Program was adopted in World War I. Using artists, war correspondents and photographers the program continued through each of the country's conflicts. Since the war in Vietnam, the collection has grown to include approximately 7,500 works by more than 350 artists. Over the years they have documented Marines in combat zones across the globe.

Fay spent two years in the Afghanistan and Iraq war zones, armed only with a pistol, camera and sketch bag. Some of his work was done in the field, other pieces created in his studio from images he brought home. Fay retired from the Marines in 2000, "but 9-11 changed everything," he said. Fay, who lives in the Washington area, joined a Reserve unit and was posted to the combat zones.

"These in no way, shape or form glorify war," said Fay. "It has nothing to do with anybody ever pulling a trigger. I'm an artist; we do art."

While critical of his subject matter, the protesters also were upset that Fay came to the show in full-dress uniform. They said it indicated that he was on official business and promoting war.

"The fact that he would come not dressed as an artist, but as a Marine is an affront," said Natasha Mayers of Whitefield. "I'm for real expression that's not paid for. This guy is paid for, he's been a Marine all his life, and this is a military point of view. The day-to-day part of war, which we can't imagine, is what we need to see. We need to see images that tell us the truth."

When asked his reaction to the protest, Fay said that he believed "most servicepeople would say, 'That's why we do what we do.' People have that right to express themselves in this country and I support that. Most are very pleasant, but some are mean-spirited and aggressive."

The show runs through March 27.

I think the article pretty much speaks for itself. The artists who were protesting can't stand the idea of anyone expressing a viewpoint that might be different from their own. Their wish to deny Sgt. Fay's art to the public is incredible.

I putter around with artsy stuff - I have a minor in art, but being artsy should not make artists this stupid and rude! They should all be ashamed of themselves.

I am going to Bangor, Maine this Sunday for a week of work. I just checked Mapquest, and if I have time, I will make a side trip to Rockland, Maine to see the Farnsworth Museum exhibit of Sgt. Fay's work.


I found this link at WSJ.com's Best of the Web

Posted by Beth at February 9, 2005 02:02 PM