Monday, March 30, 2020

Freighters as unrecognizable as a portrait by Picasso

Hypothetical dazzle schemes © Roy R. Behrens
Lee Simonson, THE WAR AS ART CRITIC in Minor Prophecies. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1927, pp. 87-88—

Among the startling ironies of this war [World War I] is the role it has assigned to the artist. He had remained an image-maker, primarily interested in recording fields in sunlight, women disrobing, bowls of fruit, and sprays of flowers. To his amazement, he found himself necessary to assure the efficience of a fifty-millimeter gun, the safety of a cargo of herring, or the sale of a million bonds. 

Hypothetical dazzle schemes © Roy R. Behrens
The technique of his purely pictorial experiments, impressionism which had bewildered the juries of fifty years ago, became part of the technique of war. For camouflage began with the discovery by the manager of the largest emporium at Lyons that if a sentry’s cape were dabbed with color in much the same manner as Monet had painted a haystack, the sentry became a less obvious target. The development of camouflage has paralleled in its logic the development of modern art. 

Hypothetical dazzle schemes © Roy R. Behrens
As one passes the camouflaged steamers in our harbors it is apparent that the particular system of color planes which disguise them would never have been so readily devised if the clue to it had not already existed in cubist and futurist canvases. The atmospheric unity binding figure and landscape in a picture has been transferred to the soldier in the field, and the identity of a freighter becomes as unrecognizable as the features of Mr. X in a portrait by Picasso. We have found that naked weapons are ineffective, and called on the artist to decorate them.